Eighty years ago, Dorothy Brooke, the wife of a British cavalry officer, sat down to write a letter to the Morning Post – now the Daily Telegraph - about the plight of horses left behind after the First World War.
She was horrified to see hundreds of old war horses working on the streets of Cairo having been sold into a life of drudgery rather than returned home to England.
She hoped to rouse the hearts and cheque books of animal-lovers across Britain, and give these forgotten victims of war, the dignity to live out a better life.
“Those sold at the end of the war have sunk to a very low rate of value indeed,” she wrote in the letter.
“They are past 'good work' and the majority of them drag out wretched days of toil in the ownership of masters too poor to feed them – too inured to hardship themselves to appreciate, in the faintest degree, the sufferings of animals in their hands.”
The public responded to Dorothy Brooke’s appeal, first printed on 16 April 1931, with incredible generosity. Within three days, the appeal had raised £5,000 – the equivalent of more than £20,000 in today’s money.
With it, she bought 5,000 ex-warhorses and, with money continuing to come in, the doors were soon opening for Cairo’s first veterinary stable, the Old War Horse Memorial Hospital, which continues to this day.
“Happiness comes like a dream of the past to these old horses when we buy them. They cock their ears at an English voice, they even whinny with the old familiar smell of bran mash. Some few, who still possess the physical energy, roll in ecstasy when they find themselves on a soft straw bed,” she wrote in her diary in 1932.
Dorothy continued to work tirelessly until her death in 1955, but the strong family association lives on. Dorothy’s granddaughter, Ann Searight, has been a trustee of the Brooke since 1971 and is committed to its operations.
Thanks to Dorothy Brooke’s initial appeal – and the continuing generosity of our supporters - the Brooke has grown into the leading international animal welfare charity it is today, with the goal of helping two million working horses, donkeys and mules, by 2016.
“The needs of working animals across the developing world, is as great now as it was 80 years ago,” said Petra Ingram, chief executive.
“This year we will reach more than 800,000 working horses, donkeys and mules benefiting more than four million of the world’s poorest people, who rely on these animals to earn a basic living.”