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International animal welfare charity, based in the UK, working to protect and care for donkeys and mules.
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Donkeys and wellbeing

20 February 2018

Volunteer Ross Hill gives a personal account of how donkeys improve human health and happiness, and unveils her ‘Donkey Five Ways to Wellbeing’.

When I was asked to write a blog for The Donkey Sanctuary about volunteering I had lots of ideas and false starts – like all good writers.

While I was struggling with the volunteering blog I was asked to put something together on the impact of spending time with donkeys on human wellbeing, particularly as the subject of wellbeing is a specialism of my day job.

Anyway, today I was driving the familiar route down the M5 to Sidmouth for my first stint of volunteering of the new year when I had a brainwave. Why not combine the two? I have been working in wellbeing for the past five years and have been promoting Five Ways to Wellbeing in my presentations to hundreds of staff over the years – in fact my volunteering forms part of my Five Ways and I am a proud promoter of The Donkey Sanctuary.

The concept of wellbeing comprises two main elements: feeling good and functioning well. Feelings of happiness, contentment, enjoyment, curiosity and engagement are characteristic of someone who has a positive experience of their life. Equally important for wellbeing is our functioning in the world. Experiencing positive relationships, having some control over one’s life and having a sense of purpose are all important attributes of wellbeing. When considering these elements, the New Economics Foundation created The Five Ways to Wellbeing.

So here are my Donkey Five Ways to Wellbeing!


Whether you are a visitor, volunteer or member of staff, connecting is the lifeblood of the sanctuary. While humans can and do treat donkeys atrociously, on the whole donkeys like humans and they love interacting with us, whether it is them teasing us or us providing our favourite donkeys with grooming and petting services. As a volunteer I deal with the public a lot and I am struck by how many visitors say how restful, peaceful or therapeutic they view their connection with the donkeys.

Keep learning

Whether picking up random snippets of knowledge (eg how long a donkey lives, what donkeys eat, where donkeys come from etc) or attending formal training in donkey care and behaviour, one is constantly learning new things with donkeys. To quote a colleague, ‘we can never know everything and life is a learning journey’, and here at the sanctuary the donkeys are our tutors. They teach us patience, love, peace and how to be mindful – which brings me onto…

Take Notice

Whether watching the donkeys in the field or being presented with a bum to scratch, donkeys are experts in encouraging us to practice mindfulness. The ability to shut out the hubbub of the modern world and concentrate on one thing is a skill we all have to relearn. When we are around donkeys, whether staff or public, we somehow find it easier to switch off the world and just concentrate on the big brown eyes, the velvety muzzle or the patiently waiting bum. Even when no donkey presents itself for attention, leaning on a fence watching them snoozing, enjoying a roll or playing ‘capture the collar’ are mindful activities, and we indulge ourselves in their relaxing activities.


Without donations the sanctuary wouldn’t survive, but it’s not just money we talk about when referring to giving. I am often asked why I volunteer and the answer is always complicated. I started, like many, as an adopter. Then I progressed to a visitor and began making regular treks down the M5. I made a point of learning as much as possible about the sanctuary and its founder, Dr Svendsen, and the more I learned about the local and international work the more I wanted to help and be a more productive member of the organization. So I registered as a volunteer and this is my little bit of giving. As visitors, not only do you give money, whether as donations or in the shop or restaurant, but you give that rare commodity – love. The donkeys benefit from your attention, the stroking and scratching, and in their own equine way they give so much back to us humans.

Being Active

Well, that’s a given. At Slade House Farm in Sidmouth alone there are about 45 acres of fields, paddocks, barns and formal walking routes. Whether we are pushing Nana in her wheelchair, roaming about alone or watching the kids run about, we are all enjoying exercise and fresh air without realising it. You can drift from Shelter 1 (visiting Walter, Timothy, Hannah and Cocoa) through 2, 3 and 4 (saying hello to Zena and Ashley on the way), then 5 and 6 where Millie the Mule hangs out, and then you notice you have been walking for maybe an hour; just strolling along pausing to talk to the donkeys as you go. For a roaming ‘troubleshooter’ volunteer, which is my remit, I can cover five or ten miles easily in a day, talking to the public, showing them around and walking the site.

So, weighing up the time I have spent at The Donkey Sanctuary – from doing the visitor thing to laying out candles for Candlelight; from guiding visitors to their adoption donkeys (or the restaurant, or the toilets!) to helping at events – I think I, like all of you, have been experiencing the Donkey Five Ways to Wellbeing.

Banned for life - donkey owner admits neglect

20 February 2018

A man from Derbyshire has been disqualified from keeping donkeys for life after pleading guilty to allowing two donkeys to suffer.

The pair of donkeys named Jessica and Jasmine were discovered by the RSPCA and The Donkey Sanctuary in June last year, with hooves so overgrown they were unable to walk.

Guilty plea

At Derby Magistrates Court last week (15 February), Mark Barber (DOB 8.6.1977) admitted to failing to seek vital farriery treatment for his donkeys.

Farmer Mark Barber, of Blore, Ashbourne pleaded guilty to the charges of causing unnecessary suffering to the two donkeys under section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. He also admitted failing to seek treatment for the donkeys’ poor and overgrown hooves for more than two months between April 2017 and June 2017, leaving them in constant pain and unable to walk.

RSPCA inspector Charlotte Melvin, who investigated the case brought by the RSPCA, said: “These two beautiful donkeys were left to suffer because Mr Barber refused to call a vet or farrier out.

Shocking sight

“After a concerned member of the public called us about the state of two donkeys they’d seen on the Barbers' farm, I called Hannah Bryer, head of welfare at The Donkey Sanctuary, to help and when we arrived we were shocked at what we saw.

"Both donkeys, Jessica and Jasmine, were out in a field and their hooves were so long we could barely coax them to take a few steps - they were in agony.

“Mr Barber had left Jessica and Jasmine without any farriery or veterinary care for a really long time, even though it was clear that they were suffering.

“Thankfully, after we called a vet who certified their suffering immediately, Mr Barber signed the donkeys into our care and after carefully loading them into the horsebox, they were taken straight to The Donkey Sanctuary to receive the expert care they so desperately needed.”

Mark Barber received a fine of £383 and was ordered to pay costs of £500, along with a victim surcharge of £38 and was disqualified from keeping donkeys for life.

A difficult decision

Both donkeys were taken to The Donkey Sanctuary in Buxton for emergency care and treatment. One of the donkeys, Jessica, was also found to have severe sarcoids on her legs and belly. Sarcoids are a skin tumour and if caught early can be treated, but sadly poor Jessica’s condition was so severe, even a veterinary specialist who is experienced in the condition advised that she would not recover, and so the difficult decision was made to put her to sleep.

Happily, Jasmine has made a full recovery and remains a resident at The Donkey Sanctuary’s Paccombe Farm in Devon.

Collaboration and recovery

Hannah Bryer, head of welfare at The Donkey Sanctuary, said: “Cases like this are incredibly sad as they can be so easily avoided.

“Happily, with the support of vets, farriers and farm staff, Jasmine has made a full recovery and is now living in the company of other donkeys at one of our sanctuaries.

“Sadly, we were unable to save Jessica due to the extensive and inoperable nature of her tumours which were affecting her quality of life.

“We are grateful for the combined efforts of the RSPCA, Derbyshire Police and all involved in investigating this case. The disqualification order imposed by the court serves to protect the welfare of donkeys in the future, but of course the most important outcome of all is that Jasmine is now fit and well, with a safe and secure future ahead of her.”

Sanctuary takes in five donkeys when they needed it most

15 February 2018

Ensuring the health and happiness of every donkey in the UK doesn’t just mean being there for donkeys when their welfare is compromised, but being there in support of owners - especially when tragedy strikes.

The Donkey Sanctuary recently took five donkeys into its care from their home in South Wales, in the hope that one day we will find them another loving forever home.

There to help

When family illness meant the donkeys’ owner could no longer give them all the care and attention they needed, he knew he could turn to The Donkey Sanctuary for help.

Tamlin Watson, our welfare adviser, visited Benty, Flossie, Toby, Jake and Jasper along with a vet. A sixth donkey, Granny, who was over 20 years old, was x-rayed. This showed up that she had a significantly twisted pedal bone - an essential part of a donkey’s hoof. She was very uncomfortable on hard ground and found it painful to walk.

Granny was prescribed pain relief in the short term, but it became clear that the difficult decision to put her to sleep would need to be taken.

A difficult decision

Tamlin said: “It would not have been fair or welfare-friendly to move Granny away from somewhere familiar all the way down to Devon, the journey would have been painful for her and this stress would have made for a very miserable donkey - it was better for all for her to be put to sleep peacefully amongst all of her friends in familiar surroundings.”

We worked with the owner to get Granny euthanised well before the rest of the herd was moved, as one of the herd, Toby, was very bonded to her.

A special bond

Donkeys form very strong bonds but they are susceptible to a stress-related illness called hyperlipaemia; it is potentially fatal and can be triggered when a donkey loses its best friend, so we needed to take extra care.

“Hyperlipaemia has a three-week high risk period,” said Tamlin. “We wanted to ensure Toby was out of this risk period before moving them.”

Benty and friends

Each of the donkeys has their own personality and their own story to tell. Jake had a sarcoid removed one year ago and has remained a little wary ever since. Benty - so named because of her bent ear - is particularly very sweet and the rest of the herd are very friendly and easy to handle.

Our founder, Dr Svendsen, said that “for as long as donkeys need my help, they shall have it” - a sentiment which is continued throughout the organisation today.

Adorable donkeys get a roof over their heads

15 February 2018

A loveable pair of donkeys called Coco and Will are two of the newest arrivals to The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth after the charity stepped in to help a struggling owner who couldn’t put a roof over their heads.

When our welfare team received an enquiry to assist with a donkey castration, an initial check was carried out to make sure the donkey was being kept in the right environment which was meeting all of his health and happiness needs.

No shelter

Will and his friend Coco had plenty of room to roam, graze and exercise, but according to their owner, they weren’t keen on using their shelter. Upon further inspection, it was clear to see why; the ‘shelter’ had no roof, there was no bedding, and the floor was thick with sticky mud.

The owner had assumed that the donkeys could be managed in with her horses, and when it became clear that wasn’t the case, she moved the donkey friends to a field of their own, unaware of how much donkeys rely on access to shelter from the elements, as well as an area of hardstanding to give their hooves some respite from the sodden paddock.

Sanctuary support

Will has a heart murmur, meaning any castration operation was not going to be totally straightforward. He needed clinical care.

With family commitments piling up, it became apparent to the owner that she wasn’t in a position to put the situation right and give the donkeys the care they needed. She made the difficult decision for any loving owner to sign over the donkeys over to The Donkey Sanctuary.

Full of character

Tamlin Watson, donkey welfare adviser, said: “Coco and Will are a lovely pair of donkeys. Coco is slightly nervous of sudden movements but is very sweet-natured. Will is a dear little chap, not stallion-like at all; he seems to be the carthorse of the donkey world, a really cuddly, friendly chap that just ambles around. When we arrived at their field Coco flew down to meet us while Will was oblivious to our arrival for some time!”

Donkeys are different

A recent study carried out by The Donkey Sanctuary shows that donkeys are less able than horses to adapt to colder, wetter climates, meaning they need additional protection.

For any prospective or current donkey owners, we have a wealth of helpful guidance on owning donkeys which is available in the health and care section of the website.

Four foal friends' brighter future

15 February 2018

Four adorable but unwanted donkey foals have landed on their hooves in their new home at The Donkey Sanctuary in Devon.

Due to a sudden change in circumstances these fluffy friends’ future looked uncertain.

Fortunately, the owner contacted us and now they will be safe and secure for the rest of their lives.

Tests and checks

Happiness, Geoffrey, Nincompoop and Bill arrived last week (February 7) and will remain in an isolated part of the sanctuary as they undergo tests and treatments to prepare them for life on the farm.

The Donkey Sanctuary has a ‘no breeding’ policy, but when a mare arrives into our care in foal, or if a group like this have nowhere else to turn, then we will make sure they get all the love and care they need.

Forever home

The young donkeys are not used to being handled, but our expert farm staff will work with them, and one day we hope to find them a loving forever home through our rehoming scheme.

As with all donkeys who come into our care, the baby donkeys will go through a routine which includes medical tests for parasites and other diseases.

Thanks to you

They will also be visited by a farrier, receive any vaccinations or blood tests that are needed, and will be given a settling in period on their own before being introduced to a suitable herd.

Thanks to our supporters, we are able to offer these unwanted friends a brighter future.

Blackie Star

1 February 2018

The Donkey Sanctuary has a long history with the Peropalo festival in Spain. Dr Svensden herself, attended the event in 1987 and was horrified by what she witnessed. With the help of The Star newspaper, Blackie the suffering donkey was rescued from his torment and was able to come home to The Donkey Sanctuary in Devon. Below is her experience in her own words from her book ‘A Passion for Donkeys’.

A great deal of concern and attention was focussed, by our charity and the national press, on the annual fiesta held at Villanueva de la Vera. In 1987, two weeks before the fiesta was to take place, we learned that a donkey was again to be used in the normal custom despite our efforts and those of a Spanish-based welfare organisation. The world press reported the events that were due to take place and we were inundated by pleas to help from the British public. We forwarded three thousand letters of protest to Spanish officials in an attempt to stop this needless slaughter.

The donkey used in the fiesta was nicknamed 'Blackie' and due to the presence of animal welfare organisations and the press, he was not unduly harmed except for rope burns on his neck and sides and some damage to his fetlocks. After the fiesta The Star newspaper purchased Blackie and The Donkey Sanctuary was asked to take ownership of him. It was felt that, if left in the village, it was possible that the villagers might take revenge on Blackie for altering the custom of their fiesta. John Fowler, the Sanctuary veterinary surgeon, and Roy Harrington departed for Spain to extricate Blackie from the village into a safe resting place until quarantine regulations allowed him to enter Britain.

During the thirty days of Blackie's quarantine in Spain we had been constantly pestered by the press so arrangements had to be made in secret to go over to Spain on the Easter bank holiday. It had been agreed earlier that The Star reporters would accompany what was to become known as the 'A-Team', in bringing Blackie back.

We had hoped that our arrival would be a secret. However, our hopes were quickly dashed as, on reaching Plymouth, we were informed that the press were 'all over the docks'. The police and customs men did a marvellous job and had somehow managed to move all the reporters off the dock and behind the wire. Pandemonium broke out when we went through the gates. The reporters were told that the lorry would stop and the ramp would be opened for five minutes, so that they could photograph Blackie, but due to the ensuing melee we closed up the ramp and drove off.

Blackie travelled exceptionally well and was unloaded into the stable prepared for him. Nearly all the staff had returned to the Sanctuary that evening to see Blackie's safe arrival. Shortly afterwards Blackie was introduced to a little donkey called Lola, who had come from Wales after having had a fairly tough life and they have become firm friends and will spend the rest of their natural days at the Sanctuary.

Blackie Star remained at The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, surrounded by people who loved and cared for him until he passed away in 1993. Blackie Star is buried at the sanctuary among the flowers in the rose garden at Sidmouth. He will always be remembered as a symbol of the suffering of donkeys and the work The Donkey Sanctuary carries out to help these animals in need.