By Dr. Jay Merriam
It’s already a long way from home, this place in Morocco I’ve heard so much about and wanted to visit for so long. It’s an animal hospital in fact, the largest free provider of veterinary care for working equids in the world. More correctly, it’s name is the American Fondouk for working animals. It is the gift of Amy Bend Bishop, who in 1920 while visiting was appalled by the health and treatment of the working animals in this part of the world. She made a gift, established a trust and the MSPCA has run it ever since.
My trip here is to survey, advise and assist in the direct care of the cases we will be presented over the next week.
Monday morning began in Massachusetts, cold, wet and busy. I treated a few cases at the clinic, and then Gez and I hit the road to see a lame reiner and a couple of lame saddlebreds, in the same barn. We employed the ultrasound, x-ray and clinical lab for diagnostics, then followed up with treatments and medications. How easy it was, smiling clients with credit cards on file, well fed horses in spotless stalls. Life is good for them, and us, the caregivers. How we take it for granted! Having worked many years in the developing world, where goods and families are dependent on their working horse, mule or donkey, I realize what luxury surrounds our horses. We get our food from sparkling markets and worry when the price of Clementine’s lets say, goes up! Suddenly available in the produce sections, it’s hard to think that many of them began their voyage here on donkeys back in Morocco, the very place I’m going. I’m going to follow them and see where it takes me.
Morocco is on the Mediterranean side of Africa, just across the straits of Gibraltar from Spain. There’s a whole lot of world history on theses shores, the Moors and the Christians chased each other back and forth many times over the last millennia, and before them it carried the seeds of civilization to a jumping off place settling Europe and the western world. Horses carried Hannibal and Genghis Kahn, now they feed us exotic fruits, carry bricks and tourists, move the developing world in ways and places that tractors can’t. I’m Off!
I arrived in Fez, Morocco just before 11 pm their time, 4 am Tuesday ours, after 27 hours. Dr. Gigi Kay, the director, was waiting outside customs as I was waved through. She greeted me warmly and we both grinned at the fact that customs agents in this little airport weren’t about to be bothered opening the massive suitcase following us out the door. Vetraps, IV sets and all sorts of medicines routine to us, but unavailable there, were bulging out under my shirts and shoes.
We had a quick tour of the facilities, a former royal stable and big house in a walled compound not far from the Medina, the oldest city in Africa. There were 20 + animals in 11 stalls, mostly donkeys and mules and a few very sick horses. We discussed the cases in depth (that is how she does things!) and then I crashed into the small apartment next to the courtyard. The donkeys talked to me regularly all night, but when 7 am came around I was ready to work. And work we did. There are 2 Moroccan vets, 4 techs, 4 students and some barn helpers all assembled for
rounds as I got going. The students are from the US, Germany, Cyprus, Israel and Morocco. All speak either French or English, a few
both. The staff speaks French and Arabic, so our rounds sounds like a UN meeting. Gigi is fluent all around but today was mostly in French. My Spanish helps, plus the charts are in English, and we all help each other. Treatments are complicated; there are no simple lacerations in the bunch. One horse has a laceration on his fetlock that wasn’t healing well so the farrier “fired” it, applying a red hot knife blade across it and in so doing opened the joint! The 3 stripes across it are now healing in, but he is sound only after repeated joint lavages and RLPs. He’ll walk again but will have to pull a cart through the Medina if he wants to live. We see 3 more of these today, one arriving after an 80 mile truck ride to treat his hock, infected and treated by firing 3 months ago. He’ll be lavaged tomorrow if we can get the legs swelling down enough to find the joint!
We had several lameness exams to do or re-do because she wasn’t happy with her findings the day before (2 low suspensories and a major contracted tendon on the hind leg of a mule). She also had me ultrasound a chest (comet tails even I could see) and has arranged for me to give a CE lecture tomorrow to 12 Moroccan vet students and 8 vets… on colic! So Glass Horse is going to save the day! Also get to practice NG tubing and rectals!!!
She had also saved an oral Squamous Cell about the size of a tennis ball on a 3 year old donkey. We dropped him on a large mat in the courtyard and I removed it orally, then injected Cisplatin into the base. We’ll see, he has no prognosis without it. Also did a flexor tenotomy on the mule, but not sure it’s going to help, he’s had it for 3 years and walks on his front wall.
We also spent quite a bit of time with a tetanus case (she see’s 6 or 7 a year, saves 60%… probably not this one) and a few multi-system disease cases.. the one with a sole abscess that got a pulmonary and jugular embolus after an RLP for instance, or the one with a perforated bladder and colic and DDSP that almost strangled him. And I can’t forget about Miss Comet tail with the abdominal mass and colic and a draining wound on her hip…and she hasn’t missed a meal!
And our coxofemoral luxation.. walking around funny, but probably will go back to work soon!
And last there’s the horse who came in lame yesterday, got a lot better but needs some time to recover from his injury… his owner agreed that he’d love to rest him, but he needs the $5 or 6 dollars a day he makes pulling a cart. So Dr. Kay offered to pay him to leave him here fore the rest of the week, and he agreed. Now that’s medicine outside the lines!
Just got back from an amazing concert in the Medina in an old palace with the most amazing mix of music, sung by Fez native woman who lives in Amsterdam, sings in English and French while playing an Oud ! Or the guy who sang a jazz version of a Muslim call to prayer acapella and had everybody standing and rocking and sounded like a gospel revival preacher! As I said, it’s an amazing place with quite a mix of cultures, medicine and great people doing wonderful work to animals who really need it!