Sharing Our Animal Welfare Program Knowledge
Many different types of NGOs exist in the fight to end animal suffering. Some work directly with animals, while others focus on liaising with governments, corporations, or consumers. Most of these organizations deliver programs that align with their mission such as community education, research, legal advocacy, and more. While different factors make a program successful, an ineffective program can cost resources — and sometimes even harm the animals (or people) an NGO is trying to help.
Whether they realize it or not, most NGOs have learned a lot from their programs, and this knowledge could benefit other animal protection organizations. In this study, the authors use working equid welfare organizations as a case study to understand some of the key challenges and opportunities associated with different types of animal welfare programs.
Working equids, such as horses, donkeys, and mules, play a crucial role in many marginalized communities, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the authors claim that these animals typically experience poor welfare and are often not protected by policies meant to safeguard animals. Working equid welfare organizations try to fill the gap by launching programs to improve equid well-being while also supporting marginalized families who rely on them for their livelihoods.
The researchers interviewed 32 individuals from 8 NGOs in 13 countries, spanning a variety of job roles and seniority levels. Participants were asked to weigh in on the most common approaches used by NGOs to improve working equid welfare, including which methods are particularly successful or unsuccessful and the factors that determine a program’s effectiveness.
The authors developed a number of themes that coincide with different types of programs offered by equid welfare groups. While these programs are unique to the equid welfare sector, the participants’ experiences may benefit those working on other animal protection issues.
Advocating For Policy Change
Advocacy (defined in this study as advocating for legal changes) was noted as a significant focus for equid welfare organizations as it can address the root causes of welfare issues and impact a greater number of animals. However, some participants argued that a balance between advocacy and field-based approaches is necessary, as change through advocacy can be slow and difficult to accomplish.
When a policy is changed, NGOs also have to make sure it’s enforced. This requires ongoing time and resources beyond the initial advocacy effort.
Participants emphasized that you can’t address a problem until you understand it. The authors noted that research helps equid welfare NGOs gain insight into the communities they’re working with and ensures they’re delivering programs addressing the communities’ needs.
However, some participants noted that research is expensive and time-consuming, especially for smaller NGOs. Academics who work on equid welfare issues often don’t translate their work into something usable for advocates.
Veterinary Clinics And “Para-Vets”
Historically, NGOs have offered free or subsidized veterinary care to working equid guardians as a way to encourage them to care for their animals. However, this approach was polarizing in the research. Some argued that it treats symptoms of welfare problems rather than addressing the underlying causes, while others noted that it doesn’t help enough animals or undermines the activities of local veterinarians. However, such clinics can serve as the only source of treatment in communities without veterinary services and can establish trust within the community. To make this approach more sustainable, setting time limits and building capacity for local vets to treat equids should be considered.
Some NGOs train members of the community to work as “para-vets,” or community animal health workers. These specialists can support the work of conventional vets and offer flexible treatment options for rural, remote, or nomadic communities. However, participants said these services need to be more closely regulated to ensure sufficient and standardized training.
NGOs may share welfare-related messaging as a quick and widespread way to improve equid welfare (for example, sending text messages to everyone in a community). Welfare messaging is accessible for smaller organizations and helps when NGOs can’t operate in person. However, participants said it can be difficult to measure the program’s effectiveness.
Some equid welfare NGOs offer payment schemes to the communities they work with (for example, offering loans to help guardians purchase better equipment or to address equid health emergencies). One benefit of providing this type of help is that it can prevent equid guardians from being exploited by other sources of loans. However, many NGOs and their donors feel uncomfortable injecting themselves into the financial dynamics of local communities.
Participants considered interactive and practical training as a successful approach for effective and long-term learning. This includes training veterinarians, government officials, and equid guardians themselves. Some interviewees said education can help increase empathy, which encourages people to support animal welfare.
Also, humane education for children was considered beneficial for encouraging future generations to take better care of equids, although measuring the long-term impact of such programs was seen as difficult.
NGOs often encourage local communities to share their perspectives about equid welfare issues. Gaining feedback helps organizations gain insight on the types of future programs they should be offering to address community members’ needs. Plus, participants said this method ensures that community members are heard and included.
Finally, some NGOs train locals in improved equid management skills (e.g., saddling and harnessing) that they can teach to other members of their community. Participants shared that such programs are helpful because equipment-related injuries are common sources of equid welfare problems. However, providing funding for these businesses to thrive and creating demand within the communities were seen as significant challenges. Other challenges involved trainee dropouts and trained individuals leaving their communities.
The researchers identified several barriers that pose challenges to equid welfare NGOs regardless of what type of program they’re implementing. Other animal advocates may recognize these barriers, as they are often seen in other animal protection cause areas:
- Local attitudes toward equids: Equids (especially donkeys) are often seen as low-status animals, meaning their care and welfare is disregarded. Participants believed that showing the importance of equids to local communities could change these attitudes and encourage guardians, veterinarians, and policymakers to take equids more seriously. (Editor’s note: Understanding and changing attitudes is a common focus area in our movement.)
- Veterinary training: Participants noted that many local veterinarians aren’t trained in equid health. To address this, some NGOs focus on partnering with universities to add equine-related training to veterinary curriculums and internship programs for veterinary students to get hands-on experience with equids. (Editor’s note: Supporting veterinarians in their training and work is an important way to help vets and animals.)
- Program monitoring and evaluation: Tracking programs is crucial to understand how impactful they are, and many organizations are placing an emphasis on data-driven results. However, participants shared that knowing what type of data to collect and how to report on it is challenging and adds extra responsibilities to NGOs. (Editor’s note: This is a struggle for many animal protection groups. Check out Faunalytics’ Research Advice page or attend our Office Hours if you need help measuring and evaluating your programs.)
In sum, the study found that combining different, complementary programs and understanding the unique context of different communities can help improve equid welfare. This is also helpful advice for animal advocates in general. Knowledge sharing is important, especially in a movement with limited resources. As we work toward our collective goal of ending animal suffering, we can learn a lot from our colleagues in other organizations and cause areas.