Animal Health and Welfare

Much of Vetwork's early experience was with projects in which community animal health workers were trained to serve their communities. However, these are not the only projects working within communities to improve animal health and welfare. People live and work with animals in many different ways, with animals playing a variety of roles. Reflecting this, animal health services have tended to limit their focus to specific groups of animals. However useful lessons emerge from comparing approaches. Even similar projects have differences, reflecting how each place is unique. Successful projects will draw on existing experience and local resources.

The following illustrate the range of approaches to animal healthcare provision at community level.

The range of community level animal health and welfare services includes:

  • Local specialists working with existing local knowledge (ELK) from whatever source; in some places supported by specific projects aimed at preserving or developing this ELK [also known as ethno-veterinary knowledge (EVK)]
  • Farmer/herder education projects, including veterinary extension models such as farmer-field schools;
  • Private animal health services (including community-based animal health workers of various sorts from community vaccinators to community livestock development workers)
  • Public animal health services
  • Working animal projects
  • Charity animal health and welfare clinics
  • Animal birth control (ABC) projects
  • Community and public dialogue or education projects
  • Community wildlife management projects

Local specialists with local knowledge (ethnoveterinary knowledge - EVK)

In many places, people still rely almost exclusively on local knowledge and local specialists, with no outside inputs at all. Local knowledge may include use of some drugs, vaccines and other external husbandry practices as well as traditional practices or treatments. New projects need to ensure they do not undermine this existing local knowledge, however there needs to be an awareness that not all local treatments are beneficial. Sometimes, people who have a limited experience of owning animals use harmful practices through lack of knowledge or bad advice.

Some projects have been set up specifically to support the continuation, propagation and verification of local ‘traditional’ veterinary treatments and knowledge. This system is oftern referred to as Ethnoveterinary Knowledge (EVK). While EVK includes husbandry, spiritual and surgical practices as well as remedies, specific projects often focus on plant-based treatments. There are many EVK-based projects in India, some aiming to make the plant remedies commercially available, others giving greater emphasis to social factors affecting their use within the community. There are also examples from Africa. Heifer Project International was involved in establishing gardens of veterinary medicinal plants in Cameroon. IT-Kenya has a project in Samburu District investigating local treatments which are used with confidence and returning knowledge to the community with ‘added value’.  In addition, many individuals and small community projects are collecting and dealing with their own local knowledge either informally or as part of their other work. Increasingly, it is being recognized that EVK should provide the starting point for all CAHW projects.

Farmer/herder education projects

Projects which aim to increase farmer or herder knowledge labour under the name of extension projects and have a long and chequered history. When done well, direct work with farmers and herders can address problems identified by the farmers and herders themselves, possibly in response to changing demands from the market, and can help develop practical solutions. When done badly, messages from a centrally planned agriculture policy are broadcast unasked and unwanted to farmers who remain unreceptive to the advice they are being given.

Farmer/herder education is useful for things which farmers or herders do for themselves. What is appropriate for pastoralists who do most things to their animals themselves may not be appropriate for a settled farmer who pays someone else to do specialized tasks.

Successful examples of direct farmer training often involve an investigative phase (which may come from the working experience of a local vet or animal healthcare worker); an understanding of why things are being done the way they are, including time and financial constraints for the farmer/herder; and timing of interventions at appropriate and convenient times of the day, season and year. They will usually have simple, specific aims such as teaching good birthing practices and neo-natal care, or teaching the correct and timely use of wormers.

Examples of less useful projects include those which aim to teach donkey owners better harnessing practices using harnesses too expensive for owners to afford.

In East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea in the late 1980s, the Provincial Livestock Officer saw that the existing veterinary services (town-based, with a ruminant bias, and designed around the operational needs of veterinary service staff) had fallen out of line with the needs of village livestock owners who mostly keep pigs and poultry. During informal meetings, villagers identified internal parasites as the health problem of greatest concern, so simple in-village training was given on parasite control.

Private animal health service

  • Private veterinarians and veterinary technicians

    In many countries private vets and vet technicians provide services for both livestock and companion animals. The extent to which these services are developed usually depends on economic factors, principally the wealth of the local population and their ability to pay for professional fees. For this reason, private vets and technicians are more commonly found in higher income countries, whilst in lower income countries, they tend to be restricted to urban centres. where they provide services for companion animals or to high production/intensive livestock rearing areas. In these countries, they frequently operate from their own pharmacy, from where much of their income is derived, and where other private service providers such as Community-based animal health workers (CAHWs) buy their drugs and equipment. 

  • Community-based animal health workers / Community vaccinators

    Most of this website is about community-based animal health workers (CAHWs). These people tend to operate as private business men and women, selling their services and drugs within their own communities after a short, locally appropriate training course.  Some CAHW projects have started as Community vaccinator projects with various structures but with the CAHW only using vaccines.

Public animal health services

  • Government animal health services
    Government animal health services tend to be subsidized. Donors such as the World Bank and the IMF are trying to restrict the range of subisdized services to reduce costs. Services which primarily benefit the animal owner (private good services) are supposed to be handed over to the private sector, while government can continue to pay for services which will benefit the country (public good services). Payment by government to the private sector for performing public good services, can to a certain extent, continue to subsidize private good work.

    Directly subisidized veterinary services remain in place in some parts of Western Europe, for example, in the Highlands and Islands Scheme in Scotland, and for the same political reasons that many aid recipient countries are trying to resist having to privatise all their veterinary services. These reasons include maintaining the viability of rural communities, or levelling the costs across the country to make services eqaully accessible to the whole population.


  • People’s committees animal health workers (PCAHWs)
    Under communist regimes, for example in Vietnam up to the present, PCAHWs have been part of the local administration infrastructure throughout the country. In some ways PCAHWs are similar to CAHWs.  At this scale, it is more difficult to ensure that communities have a say in choosing the person who is to become the PCAHW, a central tenet of effective community animal health projects. It is also difficult to ensure consistent quality from so numerous a group of service providers. It is unclear whether local communities have any influence on whether ineffective PCAHWs can be replaced and deprived of their licences to work. It is unclear what formal relationship exists between PCAHWs and other levels of animal health workers such as AHAs and vets.

Working animal projects

A number of charitable projects target horses, donkeys and mules used for transport, because they often suffer due to poor handling and care. This suffering is particularly prevalent in rapidly changing urban and peri-urban areas where there is little tradition of their use and care, and where both animals and owners survive on increasingly insecure short-term livelihoods. In various places, charities are providing support to veterinary, foot care and harnessing services. The approaches used vary and include training and capacity building for public and private animal health service providers and animal owners, static hospitals, mobile clinics, training of local farriers and other specialists. Some services are entirely free; others operate some recovery of costs by charging for the service; some work within the national or local service provision system to support full cost recovery. The Donkey Sanctuary, SPANA (Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad), The Brooke, WHW (World Horse Welfare), and ATNESA (Animal Traction Development) are British charities which work almost exclusively in this sector. Some of these are now investigating the same participative approaches used by CAHW projects.

see also:  'The Welfare of Donkeys'

Animal birth control (ABC) projects

Town councils and similar local authorities often consider all cats and dogs that are not obviously owned to be strays. Strays are considered to be a health risk especially when rabies is endemic, a hygiene risk because of faeces, and a danger because they can bite and scratch. In the past it was often thought that the best way to deal with strays was by mass killing.

Recent studies have shown a number of errors in the above views. Even if cats and dogs are not obviously owned, they may have a place in the affections of the local community, and they may be fed and cared for by local people. Local cat and dog populations are often quite settled and static and their numbers are at the level they are because of human support (which implies a responsibility to control them humanely). Mass killing alone does little to control numbers in the long term because other animals soon move into an area that has been cleared. And, by destabilizing populations and encouraging the movement of animals, control by slaughter has been found to increase the chances of dog bites and the spread of rabies. Surprisingly, bites from pet dogs have been found to be generally more serious than those from strays. Also mass killing has become less acceptable for humanitarian reasons.

As a result of these findings, guidelines for the control of urban cat and dog populations have been drawn up by WHO (World Health Organization), involved primarily because of rabies control. By advocating control by surgical neutering, these guidelines throw ABC programmes into the veterinary arena.

There is still much scope for improvement to these programmes based on behavioural studies of the animals themselves and social studies among the communities in which the animals are living. Many programmes are already appreciating the value of community involvement, in much the same way that CAHW programmes have learnt the value of community involvement, and are considering the role of community education in taking their work forward.

Town councils often have the statutory duty to deal with ‘stray’ animals but local animal welfare charities may also become involved, usually attempting to raise welfare standards by doing so. These animal welfare charities can be numerous and are good models of local self-organization offering opportunities for direct collaboration with western charities and funding agencies. Some western welfare charities such as WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals) already operate at least partly through collaborations of this sort. In the UK the Cats Protection League aims to promote the benefits of neutering, amongst other objectives, and has a neutering initiative for feral and multi-cat households.

Charity companion animal clinics & services

In some places, charities provide free or heavily subsidized veterinary services to certain sections of society. These services may be provided through existing private veterinary clinics, for example using vouchers, or the charity may operate its own static or mobile clinics. Equine clinics, as mentioned above, are one example of this. In the UK, several charities provide these services for companion animals owned by people on government means-tested benefits. The NCDL (National Canine Defence League) has programmes for helping with neutering, vaccination and parasite control of dogs. They also have specific programmes to assist homeless people with dogs. The Cat Protection offer similar services for cats. The Blue Cross, PDSA (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals) and RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) all have their own clinics. There are many other, smaller local charities offering similar assistance, usually through sympathetic private veterinary clinics.

Some of the charities running these clinics have been operating for 100 years or more. Within their own frame of reference, these services are proving quite sustainable.

Community and public dialogue or education projects

Community education projects are appropriate where improved understanding or changes in attitudes and behaviour patterns across a community can lead to improvements in human and animal health and welfare. Community education, through school teaching, leaflets, newsletters, radio, television or whatever, works primarily by raising awareness about issues and encouraging public debate. Many projects come to realize the usefulness of including some community education activities, even though it can be difficult both to do and to evaluate. Draft donkey health and welfare projects in Ethiopia have circulated books around many of the primary schools in the country which illustrate in story form the ways that community-identified ‘good donkey owners’ look after their animals. Animal birth control projects in India have learnt that involving and informing communities increases the effectiveness and acceptability of their work.

Some sort of dialogue with a community is necessary if community education is to be successful. This is not easy because communities are complex, and community leaders often feel they speak for their communities even when there are distinct groups within the community who are clearly un- or under-represented. These processes require time and willingness to learn from the community, things which projects on tight funding schedules do not always have much of. Yet without them, ‘community dialogue’ can too easily become ‘community monologue’.

Community wildlife management projects

Views on wildlife vary between those who believe that it has a value independent from human interest and that it should be left alone, and those who believe that its survival now will depend on how valuable it is to human society. In the latter camp, there is increasing interest in projects that involve local communities in the care and management of local wildlife. This interest is based on a view that such involvement provides the most realistic hope of ensuring survival of wildlife. Such projects now often include some facility for the care and rehabilitation of sick, injured or orphaned wild animals and the development of health services for domestic animals. This is partly because of the risk of disease spread between wild and domestic animal populations, but also because such an approach seems balanced and sensible.