In today's modern world, it is easy to overlook some of the hardest working members of the working class. Donkeys remain a staple of everyday life in many places, but they are often overworked, neglected and mistreated. Now, animal protection groups in Kenya are speaking up for the beasts of burden.
There are approximately 600,000 donkeys in Kenya, the majority of whom move heavy carts filled with water containers, firewood and other necessary supplies for their owners.
This is not a bucolic existence. These animals live in crowded conditions, in close contact with stray dogs sometimes infected with rabies. They are occasionally struck by cars on busy highways, are underfed and occasionally beaten.
Jean Gilchrist is the director of the Kenya Society for the Protection and Care of Animals. She has worked with the organization for 26 years, helping to improve the quality of life for animals, including donkeys.
"It's not just in Kenya either," said Gilchrist. "It's something that happens worldwide. India, Ethiopia, Mexico, I don't know, it's something about the donkey that, their role in life, which is basically with the poor people who are scraping a living."
Gilchrist compares donkeys to rental cars, battered and overworked with no regard for their well-being.
"And, very often, the donkeys are hired out to young men that don't have jobs," noted Gilchrist. "And, they don't care if the donkey collapses and dies. And, a lot of them get beaten so badly, as well, even if they're running as fast as they can."
To alleviate this suffering, a British charity called the Donkey Sanctuary has organized mobile health clinics around Kenya, treating thousands of donkeys since 1994.
Tabitha Wainaina, a veterinarian, has volunteered in the clinics for the last five years.
"These animals are viewed as working animals," said Wainaina. "So the attitude is, as long as they get the work done, then a lot of attention is not paid to their medical care and the kind of nutrition they are getting and the kind of shelter they are being provided with."
Donkeys are often injured by ill-fitting and improper harnesses. Many owners simply put a rope around the donkey's neck, causing painful sores when the animal hauls heavy carts.
Daniel Njuguna works for the Donkey Sanctuary, teaching owners how to make their own harnesses from local materials, like blankets, pieces of mattress, or old clothes.
"I help them by telling them, do your donkey like this. Harnessing like this, not that way. I show them how to do it," said Njuguna.
Njuguna is a vigilant advocate for the donkeys and tries to stop abuse wherever he sees it, including around his own village. It is not easy.
"I tell them, don't hit your donkey," Njuguna added. "Some of them say, 'No, it is mine! I can do what I like!'"
Donkeys are rarely vaccinated, making them highly susceptible to rabies, tetanus, African horse sickness and worms.
But Wainaina says owners are starting to realize the benefits of vaccinations.
"Yes, the moment they are properly educated about the benefits of taking care of their animals, then they realize that the animal is actually going to work better and is going to live longer," Wainaina noted. "And that will translate to eventually, better economic output for them."
For all their efforts, volunteers with the Donkey Sanctuary abide by a very simple motto, "Happy Donkey, Happy Owner."