In addition to providing veterinary care and education, SPANA also partners with local organizations to address a spate of issues ranging from the localized needs of a particular area to humanitarian crises such as widespread droughts. And whenever possible, the charity strives to go beyond delivering disaster relief by investing in projects which create long-term sustainability in communities that exist in the most extreme and difficult environments.
SPANA was formed in 1923 by a courageous and energetic English woman, KateHosali, and her daughter, Nina. Appalled by the suffering and neglect of animals they had witnessed in North Africa while on an 8-month tour of the Middle East, they formed SPANA upon their return to London. Originally known as the Society for the Protection of Animals in North Africa, the charity was helmed by a number of notables and funded by private donations from England and America.
From the onset, the Society’s goal was not to punish those guilty of animal cruelty, but rather to provide free veterinary care for working animals. It was agreed that this would be accomplished by the creation of treatment centers throughout North Africa, a man’s job if there ever was one – or so it was considered at the time.
So, the net was cast far and wide in search of a suitable candidate. The ideal person for the job did not have to be a veterinarian, but had to have considerable practical experience in caring for animals. “A knowledge of French was essential and also organizing ability, compassion, courage, tact, imagination, and a few other attributes of that sort. In fact it became apparent that a completely unique sort of person was needed, who had the qualities and capabilities of a pioneer.” In addition, the person also had to be a skillful diplomat as what SPANA was proposing to do was without precedent.
Not only did the Society have to gain the trust of the native population, but also the cooperation of the occupying French authorities. A false step could jeopardize the whole operation. After an extensive search failed to uncover such a man, it became increasingly clear that the only one up to the task was Kate Hosali herself. So, in 1924, this white, middle-aged woman (she was 47 years old at the time), set out on her own, headed for Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. This, of course, was long before the days of cell phones and air travel. Did I also mention that she had a bad heart?
Kate volunteered to go to Africa for a year at her own expense. She ended up staying there for the rest of her life, returning to England only for short periods of time to settle business affairs and report on the progress of SPANA. She died in Marrakech in 1944 at the age of 67 after devoting 21 years to the care of working animals in North Africa. Her daughter was unable to be by her side as World War II made travel to the region impossible.
SPANA receives no government funding at all. Its work is made possible by the donations of individuals, trusts and foundations, with the majority of financing coming from individuals and legacies. There is very little institutional giving. Another way the Society raises funds is by participating in sponsored activities and by hosting events such as garden parties and dinners. There’s also an online gift shop which ships purchases internationally. (I know where I’ll be buying my holiday cards this year.) Approximately 80% of every donation goes towards SPANA’s veterinary and education programs.
Before I conclude, I’d like to add a few words about ethical animal tourism. Many people enjoy animal treks or carriage sightseeing tours while on holiday. The sad truth however, is that sometimes, these animals are overworked, underfed, neglected, beaten and often do not receive any veterinary care at all. The truth is also that tourists can make a difference in how the horses, donkeys, mules and camels they are exposed to, are treated. Adherents to SPANA’s Holiday Hooves Guide will support owners who are kind to their animals. This, in turn, will encourage other owners to do the same. Travelers can also report animal abuse to the appropriate tourist board, often an effective means of spurring change for no country wants to repel tourists. For a list of tourism offices around the world, click here.
Complaints to Morocco’s tourism office and to SPANA, in fact, are what kick-started a huge improvement in the welfare of the calèche horse in Marrakech. Remember those at the beginning of Part I? I did promise a happy ending and here it is: For some time, many tourists, appalled by the sorry state of these horses, refused to board the carriages. And as I mentioned, complaints were made. SPANA began appealing to local officials and after several years of lobbying, a law was passed which mandates that all calèche horses must receive a veterinary examination from SPANA every three months. If the horses are given the all-clear by the vets, a band is placed on their foreleg. This band changes color quarterly and police officers inspect the horses to make sure they are wearing the correct color band. Otherwise, those horses are not permitted to pull the carriages.
Yearly contests are now held and monetary prizes given out for best horse, best calèche and best combination of horse and calèche. Not only that, but the winners receive plaques which they proudly affix onto their carriages. It’s become a real point of pride among the carriage drivers. Since this law was put into place a dozen years ago, SPANA has received very few complaints about the calèche horses in Marrakech. Happy horses has meant happy tourists which has meant happy drivers as their income has increased. SPANA is currently in the process of replicating this licensing scheme in Tunisia.
SPANA has worked tirelessly on behalf of the welfare of the world’s working animals for close to a century in some of the most forbidding and challenging spots on earth. Ideally, the charity would like to not have to exist. Until needless animal suffering is eliminated, however, there is much work to be done. Unfortunately, the needs are infinite and the resources are finite particularly as SPANA is always looking to extend its coverage in areas where its help is badly needed. It is currently considering expanding its outreach programs in Senegal, Zimbabwe and Mongolia.