The Donkey Sanctuary is one of the world’s largest animal welfare charities and although its primary work is focussed on animals in Low Income Countries, the organisation does run significant animal assisted therapy programmes at its six farm centres in the UK. The ethological characteristics of the donkey make it an excellent facilitator in this process, reacting positively to human contact and actively seeking out interaction. Initially, at least, these programmes focused on children with additional needs but over the past four decades the demand for a programme that could help adults and children with a wide range of emotional, psychological and cognitive needs became increasingly apparent. The programme now also focusses on key life skills such as self-esteem, managing emotions and empathy. Furthermore, the wider client group now encompasses a more diverse set of emotional, psychological or physical needs, such as veterans, young people at risk, recovering addicts or those suffering the legacy of abuse. Engagement with animals in outdoor settings is an effective technique for establishing a position where affective behaviours may be explored and eventually expedited.
However, this paper presents two complimentary accounts. Initially it will discuss, through anonymised case-studies, the approaches that are adopted within this programme and will critically evaluate the difficulties of evaluating outcomes. It will then explore, within the context of the growing interest in animal therapies, the apparent enigma that while the outdoors is often cited as a medium in which therapies of varying types may take place, animals appear largely excluded from these narratives and therefore from published research. It concludes by exploring the paradoxical proposition that donkey assisted therapies involve one of the most derided and low status of animals, in strategies to promote the inclusion of those excluded from wider human society.