I didn't expect my seventh wedding anniversary to be such an emotional experience. It was a lifetime ambition to visit my namesake ("Petra goes to Petra") and, as a surprise, in 2009 my husband took me to Petra, the Rose Red City, in Jordan. The spectacular surroundings of ancient history surpassed all my expectations. It was a truly exhilarating place, but the distress of seeing carriage horses and riding donkeys with weeping wounds exhausted from the heat of the sun is something I will never forget.
My passion for animals developed at an early age. As a child we always had dogs and I survived school each week knowing I could spend my weekends helping and riding at the local stables. When I got older, I got a horse of my own, and in early 2009, having always wanted to work with horses despite my father's insistence that I trained to be an accountant - I was very lucky to be appointed as chief executive of the Brooke, with responsibility for helping working horses and donkeys throughout the developing world. This included animals working in construction carrying bricks or timber, in agriculture ploughing fields or taking goods to market, as taxi services and for tourists to enjoy. In all cases, it is for people who depend upon their animal's hard work to earn a daily income which puts food on their table or pays for their children to go to school.
I knew about the horses and donkeys working in Jordan, but I never expected to see them in such a terrible condition. When I talked to the owners, it seemed the Brooke had been providing a free treatment service for many years so that was no incentive for owners to take responsibility and care better for their animals. If one got sick, well "the Brooke would fix it".
Although we had made some welfare improvements, I wanted us to do more. People need to be motivated to change their behaviour and we had to think about what motivates these owners. First and foremost, in Petra they are working in the tourism sector and therefore the tourist plays a really important role. Owners want to earn more money, so why didn't the tourist only select horses in good condition? Why did they try and fit four people in a carriage designed for two? Why did they feel it was okay to ride a donkey half their size? We asked tourists and their reaction surprised me: they didn't notice! It was as if the animals - these sentient beings who, despite the pain they feel, make a commitment of loyalty to their owners - just didn't exist. They were simply invisible to tourists.
Something had to be done. We needed a campaign to change this. If tourists demand the best animals and won't pay for those who are tired, weak and in poor condition, then the owners will be motivated to change their attitude and care more for their animals. And over the last few years, things have changed. Our research shows that the welfare of these animals has improved. Tourists are now more aware of selecting the right horse or donkey, of not overloading animals, and are recognising when it is more appropriate to walk. They are encouraging even better standards.
Please join us on this journey to stop these sensitive creatures from being invisible. 27 September was World Tourism Day and so we want to be a force for good, working together to create a better world for everyone -people and animals alike. Please remember to "see" the working horses and donkeys next time you go on holiday and only reward owners with your business if their horses and donkeys are well cared for. You might not change the world by caring for one horse or donkey but for that animal, you are changing his whole world.