1970s: The story spreads

From acorns great oaks do grow. In the 1960s, Dr Svendsen's acorn arrived in the shape of Naughty Face. In the 1970s, The Donkey Sanctuary's roots spread.

Dr Svendsen with two donkey friends

Dr Svendsen with two of her special friends


The year after Naughty Face changed Dr Svendsen's life forever, she attends the sales at Exeter market.

Appalled by the state of the donkeys there, she starts by buying those in the worst condition - and begins a future dedicated to saving donkeys in distress.


On 26 March 1973 The Donkey Sanctuary is registered as a charity.

Collection boxes are set out at the Salston Hotel, and Dr Svendsen writes The Donkey Sanctuary's first leaflet by typewriter, sent to all that made a donation.

Rehoming scheme begins, enabling thousands of donkeys to find new homes over the years.


Dr Svendsen receives a phone call that will change the course of history for donkeys and mules.

She is informed that Miss Violet Philpin, founder of an animal charity in Reading, had passed away - leaving Dr Svendsen a legacy of 204 donkeys.

1970s collection boxes
Dr Svendsen gives one of the Philpin legacy donkeys a medical examination
Philpin donkey arrivals
A selection of collection boxes that enabled Dr Svendsen to raise enough funds to support the 204 donkeys to arrive from the Philpin legacy (also pictured).
Early DAT picture

"Laughter that comes to those that seldom laugh..."


Dr Svendsen unites children with additional needs with donkeys for the first time.

At 3:00am one October morning, Dr Svendsen awoke with an idea that would go on to help thousands of children in years to come: to use fully recovered donkeys in her care to help children with additional needs. She put her plan into action, rolling out trial sessions to five local schools. One head teacher, a Mr P M Dalaigh, wrote to Dr Svendsen in July 1976 to remark upon the results of the sessions.

"The progress of so many of the children has really amazed us - the way they now sit and how so many of them can now sit without support … The joy the rides bring to the blind … the real laughter that comes to those who very seldom laugh. Perhaps the greatest thing to us is the motivation it has given to Stephen - for three years we have tried to motivate this very withdrawn little boy who lives in a world of his own - the first day we saw him climb on the donkey - on his own - well we could have cried."


The Donkey Sanctuary's first newsletter, typewritten by Dr Svendsen, is sent out to supporters.

Dr Svendsen and her lifelong friend June Evers undertake The Donkey Sanctuary's first international research trip to Greece and Turkey.


The Slade Centre opens on 5 December 1978

“It was magical and so worthwhile to see the satisfaction and fulfilment the children got.” – Dr Svendsen. The Slade Centre was the first of its kind - a purpose built riding centre for children with additional needs and disabilities.