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Veterinarians Badly Needed by Bosnian Livestock

Story and photos by Jim Bartlett, Editor-in-Chief

HROUGHOUT THE WAR IN BOSNIA there has been an unprecedented humanitarian aid effort to feed and care for those effected by the war. One group in need of help, however, has been overlooked – the plight of Bosnia’s livestock, especially its horses. The people of Bosnia are by and large an agrarian people. They use horse transport, raise and process their own livestock, and live close to the land. In rural Bosnia, I figure they live pretty close to where rural Americans were in the 1930s. There are plenty of tractors and cars, but fuel, parts, and maintenance are expenses that can be avoided by following the old ways.

Even in cities, the clop-clop of horses’ hooves is always present. The Bosnians drive sturdy little Hackney ponies in single or double hitches, pulling wagons that are part car, part buckboard. They move goods from home to market, base to front-line, neighbor to neighbor. It is all very quaint unless you’ve got a good eye for horses and can spot lameness. If you are, every day will make you cringe as you see these poor little ponies grimly enduring their plight. I don't know when the art of horseshoeing came to Bosnia, but it must have been the middle ages, and not much has changed since.

The other day, I saw two kids moving past our house up the hill out of town. They were driving a scruffy but nice little bay. He was well fed, but one look at him and I figured he might last the winter. He was so footsore I would have pastured him indefinitely. I sparked up a conversation with the kids as best I could with my pidgin Bosnian and gave the pony a quick vetting. I'd have to shoot x-rays to be sure, but if they hadn't quicked him on the last shoeing, they came damn close. He would barely let me touch his left foreleg and would have bitten me if he could have.

HE SHOE WAS RIGHT OUT OF THE CRUSADES, a big, heavy cleated bastard, pounded on with hand-wrought nails. Snow is a problem around here, and I could see the benefit of cleats, but inch-long spikes? All this on paved roads. Pads would go a long way in this place. This poor little pony was also sporting a curb bit and the curb chain was too tight. The poor creature was a little bundle of misery.

I don't think that people here inflict this treatment on their animals out of malice, I think they just don’t know any better. This is a country caught in a wrinkle in time. Out with the old, in with the new. Planes, trains and automobiles. The old timers are gone and the new generations have inherited a set of traditions that is lacking as their nation transitions from agriculture into an industrial age. I guess they figure a horseshoe is like a tire, if it stays on it must be okay.

Another animal issue that worries me is that none of the dogs or livestock have been vaccinated for diseases. In past trips I have had close calls with dogs I am convinced were rabid. Other maladies may also rear their heads in the future. Bovine encephalitis is one concern, and god knows what the infinite number of chickens may have. If there is an Anthrax outbreak here, god help us all.

People here, more so than anywhere else, depend on healthy livestock to make a living. It is completely fitting to provide humanitarian aid during crisis, but that can not go on forever. Like the old Chinese proverb says, "Give a man a fish and he will have a meal. Teach him to fish and he will never go hungry again." If ever there was a time to put that proverb to use, it is now. Veterinarians Sans Frontiere where are you?

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