New charity boss speaks out: “Without our presence, there’d be no hope of improvement”

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A working donkey in Mali.
A working donkey in Mali. © Spana

Former Red Cross director Geoffrey Dennis has been appointed chief executive of international animal charity Spana.

Dennis joins Spana (the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad) from the Royal National Children’s Foundation, where he held the post of CEO. He was previously Chief Executive of Care International UK for ten years.

After running a large multinational company, Dennis joined the British Red Cross as International Director, before his appointment as Country Director of the International Federation of the Red Cross in North Korea and then Regional Director for the South Asia region.

Dennis takes over from Jeremy Hulme, who retired at the end of 2016 after leading the charity for 28 years.

“I am extremely happy to be joining Spana as the charity’s new Chief Executive. I have always cared passionately about animal welfare, having seen dreadful situations for both local communities and working animals during crises in Somalia, Rwanda, in Indonesia following the tsunami, and during the recent drought in Ethiopia,” Dennis said.

“Around one billion people globally are dependent on their animals – these animals underpin the economic well-being and livelihoods of the poorest families. But this vital hidden workforce is often overlooked by the international community. These animals must be made a higher priority.

“By providing animals with the care they need, we can prevent suffering and improve their welfare. But we also help those who rely on them so completely. One of the best ways to protect communities and ensure that people don’t get caught in an ‘aid trap’ is to look after their animals.”

Geoffrey Dennis is the new chief executive of Spana (the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad).
Geoffrey Dennis is the new chief executive of Spana (the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad).

Dennis recently visited Mali on his first trip on behalf of the charity.

“My career in international development has taken me all over the world, working in some of the most challenging and often unstable places in an effort to improve the lives of communities,” he said.

“This wasn’t the first time seeing the tough working conditions in the developing world but it certainly helped to reinforce a belief I’ve long held: that the wealth and wellbeing of working animals is vital not just for the animals themselves, but for the communities they support.”

He said he firmly believed that the international community must put working animals at the heart of development and emergency response.

A horse with overgrown hooves in Ethiopia. Poor hoof care is a serious welfare issue in Africa, SPANA says. Photo: SPANA
A horse with overgrown hooves in Ethiopia. Poor hoof care is a serious welfare issue in Africa, Spana says. © Spana

“Without animals, communities might survive a natural disaster or war but will have very little to turn back to once the conflict has ended. It’s so important that we recognise that the welfare of the working animal is central to sustainable development.”

He continued: “While it was incredibly difficult to see donkeys struggling under heavy loads in searing heat, battling exhaustion and sickness, I had to remind myself that without our presence, there would be no hope of improvement.”

Spana works in 20 developing countries worldwide, providing free veterinary treatment to working animals.

Last year, Spana treated more than 238,000 working animals, including horses, donkeys and mules. These animals do the jobs of trucks, tractors and taxis and support the livelihoods of families in many of the world’s poorest communities. But without Spana, most of these animals would have no access to veterinary care when they are sick or injured, or their owners would have no means to pay for it.

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