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.