Equine Vet Reports on Haiti Horse Situation

Long-term veterinary outreach projects are in the works to aid Haiti's equine population, said Jay Merriam, DVM, of Massachusetts Equine Clinic, in Uxbridge, Mass., who deployed with Humane Society International in the wake of January's devastating earthquake. Merriam has led veterinary outreach clinics in neighboring Dominican Republic for the past 17 years and is a leader in the AAEP's Equitarian effort.

Merriam reported that few animals were killed or seriously injured in the earthquake. "Most of the problems are systemic failures due to lack of feed, education and trained, professional help," he noted. "Long term commitments are needed as the changes, both cultural and physical, will take decades."

Examining a horse in Haiti

Dr. Jay Merriam deworms a horse in Haiti.

Merriam and the HSI team visited rural markets to examine the working equids. They found animals that were thin, but working; they are vital to the survival of the families they support. These animals are often the only way that people can transport their fruits, vegetables, and charcoal from the field to the market.

"The main problem was nutrition," Merriam said. "We were in coastal plain and there was no accessible pasture visible. Any area that could be cultivated has been devoted to cane production. It is clear that regular vet care would be helpful and appreciated, but better access to nutrition is even more vital for these animals. We had some hay with us and at the end of our stay we gave it to one of the local men, who promptly loaded it on the back of his horse and promised to distribute it."

Other issues included:

  • Internal and external parasites, for which there is no regular treatment;
  • Sores caused by wooden saddles with a variety of padding--once these begin, the animal's usefulness is compromised;
  • Choke, caused by the ingestion of rough stubble or mangos.

The team was able to examine and deworm more than 100 working equids during their tour. Merriam reported that people welcomed their interest in their animals.

They also met with the Minister of Agriculture to discuss rabies control and clinical training of the 60-70 area veterinarians. While these vets received training in Cuba, many have little clinical experience.

Haiti donkey

Traditional tack can cause sores.

The group has planned to conduct semi-annual wet labs, which will offer direct clinical training on actual patients under guidance of visiting clinicians. Along with the training, veterinarians and "vet agents" (lay vets with basic animal care skills) will be provided with supplies.

Merriam's vision for the care of working animals in Haiti includes:

  • Educate the veterinarians who are already there.
  • Provide "wet labs" and hands on training in routine procedures.
  • Prepare the Disaster Response teams at the government level down to the village "vet agent." The current systems are devastated.
  • Support long-term nutritional training and implementation for the owners of the working equids.
  • Support Western veterinarians who are already there and their parent organizations (Humane Society International and Christian Veterinary Mission).
  • Provide access to parasite control products and prevention programs.
  • Provide long-term access to training abroad and in country, including scholarships for Haitian veterinary students.
  • Support two HSI Veterinary Positions "in country" for the next 5 years. The veterinarians' interests should be oriented toward working equids.
  • Perform outreach in the form of biennial "Mash Clinics" that bring in specialists to teach dentistry, surgery, lameness practice, etc., that supplement the efforts of in-country practitioners.
  • Support veterinary student involvement and training as a possible source of future practitioners.
  • Research local sources of nutrition and overcome cultural barriers to supplemental feed.

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About the Author

Erin Ryder

Erin Ryder is a former news editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care.

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