The Donkey Sanctuary has become a world class repository of knowledge about donkeys. Our work is based on the principle of elevating and enhancing the status of donkeys in society.

Benefits to donkeys

Over almost five decades of working with and for donkeys, The Donkey Sanctuary has become a world class repository of knowledge about donkeys, from behaviour and training methodologies to veterinary treatment, feeding and optimum welfare standards.

While donkeys are eminently trainable, they come into their own when interacting with humans, where there is a give and take of energy and the possibility of building one-to-one relationships. This is amply demonstrated in the well documented case of donkey Shocks and a child called Amber at The Donkey Sanctuary Birmingham.

Shocks suffered horrendous physical and psychological abuse before his rescue by The Donkey Sanctuary. Amber, born prematurely, was not expected to walk or talk. Over the course of many months, the wounded donkey and child developed a bond that helped heal them both. Shocks is now a donkey teacher and a playful, fully integrated member of his herd at The Donkey Sanctuary Birmingham. Against medical expectation, Amber walks, talks and is thriving.

Donkeys are physically large creatures. Let loose in the arena or small paddock, it is entirely their choice whether or not to engage with the clients that visit them. Watching these lively, energetic animals adapt their behaviour to the client and actively make the choice to interact and engage is a moving experience. More importantly, it keeps the donkeys active and stimulated. In the wild, donkeys spend most of their time foraging for food and honing their survival instincts. The mental agility and well-being of our donkeys is as important as their physical health, and providing enrichment activities is a vital part of caring for them. Donkeys react positively to human contact; they actively seek out interaction, and engage in positive relationships.

Life skills: abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enables individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life.

World Health Organisation

Benefits to humans

Our donkey-assisted therapy sessions are designed to help develop life skills, specifically self-esteem, empathy and managing emotions, in vulnerable children and adults, helping them develop the emotional and psychological capacity to deal with challenging and stressful situations in the real world. Sessions with the donkeys also help develop adaptive and positive behaviour and promote positive attitudinal changes towards donkeys.

When a child is able to get over their fear of interacting with an animal much bigger than themselves, this helps to build their resilience. This experience can change the neurology so that the next time they face a scary situation, they will know it’s possible to come out the other side of their fear. That confidence didn’t exist before - the experience with the donkey has rewired the brain so that they are more able to overcome their fears and approach difficult and challenging situations.