Thursday, 4 June 2015

Kasos 2015 – a satisfying but emotional outreach for the GAWF/Animal Action Equine Team, Anna Stamatiou, Trustee.

Farrier Giannis, Vet Cleo and GAWF/Animal Action Trustee Anna Stamatiou

 This year’s visit to Kasos – the fourth by GAWF/Animal Action’s Equine Team – got off to a very shaky start.  In spite of our most energetic campaign so far to alert the islanders that we were coming, no one had thought to let us know in advance about a donkey with a broken leg.  I only heard about it the day before Cleo and Giannis were due to arrive – and that only because of a casual message, shouted over a garden wall.  Given how difficult it is to treat any fracture in equines, we promised to come and see the case as a top priority… but feared the worst.  So, next morning, seeking directions as we went, we found the poor animal lying on a patch of earth in the middle of the village.  Cleo took one look and shook her head.  A foreleg was badly fractured, the skin covering the break a broken and oozing mess, and there were flies everywhere.  The elderly owner was distraught but soon agreed that the only thing that could be done for her animal now was to end its torment by putting it quietly to sleep.  We said we would come back and do it a little later so that she could arrange for people to come and take the body away as soon as it was all over.  (In fact we also thought it best to give poor Mrs Calliope a little time to come to terms with the idea).  Cleo calculated that the donkey had been suffering for about three weeks, which made the Team feel terrible, but there was a silver lining in that no one felt like giving us an argument.  Had the injury been fresher, we might have had a lot more persuading to do.  But by now everyone could see that the animal’s condition was worsening and that euthanasia was truly the best option.

The second gelding
Another near-disaster loomed when we heard that Kostas Perselis, the man who cares for the ponies and donkeys that are owned or looked after by the Municipality, had been called away suddenly, and had left the island the morning the team arrived.  Since we had intended to carry out gelding procedures on the two male Shetland ponies in his care, it looked as though we might have to abandon that plan altogether.  We got to the place where the growing – and increasingly inbred – herd is kept, to find all eight of the little ruffians running about in a large paddock. Not a halter, nor even a handy length of rope, in sight.  I thought… “Right, that’s it.  Game over.”  But I had reckoned without the ingenuity of the locals and the pony-catching skills of Giannis.  Someone conjured a length of rope from somewhere and we managed to scare the first male into his smallish stable.  Giannis strode over with a determined look on his face and out of the shadows came the sounds of a scuffle, liberally seasoned with some pretty salty language.  Soon after, Giannis reappeared at the stable door with one end of the rope in his hand.  For a moment that was all that could be seen but then out came the stallion – with a temporary rope halter on his head and all four brakes jammed on hard.  Being an intelligent beast, the pony soon figured out that Giannis a) was stronger than him and b) meant him no real harm (unless, that is, you count the loss of his manhood)!  Cleo did the surgery, which went very smoothly, although the anaesthetic took a little longer to wear off than we expected.  Giannis had to do steadying head-holding duty while local lad, Christos, hung on to a tail.  Minutes later we managed to catch the second pony and repeat the above scenes more or less exactly.  Now the small herd will stop growing, which will prevent future birth defects.  All of its new members are descended from one original pair so it was only a matter of time before either mental or physical disabilities appeared.  (We will have to wait and see whether any of the females is carrying a male foal… we may not be out of the woods yet)!

We devoted most of the afternoon to what I have come to think of as “house calls” scouring the village of Aghia Marina for animals we know about, many of which we have seen on previous visits, and looking for new ones.  The first and most difficult emotionally was the return visit to Mrs Calliope’s donkey.  The poor lady wept openly as Cleo administered the drugs and her donkey died.

Draining the wound
The wound is treated and dressed
The rest of the calls went fairly uneventfully until we visited an elderly couple that reported one of their two donkeys was lame.  As Cleo’s fingers disappeared inside a wound just above the hoof and nasty stuff flowed out, it was clear that Cleo was dealing with a seriously deep infection that, if left untreated, would certainly have proved life-threatening.  Once again we had come across a case that we ought to have been told about in advance so that we could have made sure to give it priority, and once again it was by sheer luck that we were there at the critical moment. It may sound like an exaggeration to say that we saved a life that day but it’s almost certainly true.  If the young man, Christos, who Cleo trained on the spot to clean and dress the wound and administer a daily antibiotic injection, carries out his tasks (and there’s every indication that he will) that donkey will heal well and survive.  Now there’s only one thing left… to convince the owners to change their practice of tethering their animals using a thin piece of rope tied around the pastern.  Hmmm.  This may not be achievable any time soon.  Hope for changes of this kind really lies with showing the next generation better ways of doing things.
Damaged pastern after treatment

We rounded off the working day by making a repeat visit to a donkey with ballerina syndrome.  Giannis had treated it on our previous visit two years ago and was pleased to find it improved. Cleo used her enormous cutters to reduce a very overgrown tooth and the whole Team did its best to impress on an owner that being hugely overweight is as unhealthy for donkeys as it is for humans.  Giannis typically reduced the lecture to a memorably minimalist instruction:  “Lose the corn, mate”.

Essential farriery
Before we left Kasos the next day, Cleo did a final check on the geldings, which were doing fine, and also changed the dressing on the infected leg.  The swelling was reduced and more weight was being carried on it – both good signs. We went to the chemist and ordered extra needles for the antibiotic injections and all the dressings that would be needed for the wound. As we left, Cleo declared herself content with the Kasos leg of this early summer outreach trip because, as she said, “We did three very different procedures, but in each case we made a really meaningful difference to the welfare of those animals”.

Amen to that.


Anna Stamatiou, Trustee

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