This morning I was off to Hannigan's Farm with a list of donkeys to take photos of for the next newsletter for Ireland. It got off to a good start ... the sun was shining!
Driving up to the track to the farm, I was surprised by the size of the place. I remember Paddy Barrett telling me yesterday that the farm was bought in 1996 with 70 acres of land. Donkeys that are taken into the care of the Sanctuary in Ireland are brought to Hannigan's where they spend their first six weeks in the Isolation Unit where they are given a health check before joining the resident donkeys.
Sadly, due to the credit crunch, Paddy said there were quite a few donkeys coming into the Sanctuary. I know from personal experience that making the decision to relinquish your donkeys is a tough one. He said many owners had chosen to send their donkeys to the Sanctuary rather than take them to a market and not know where they would end up. At least the owners would know that their donkeys would be looked after for the rest of their lives.
There are about 340 donkeys at Hannigan's as I write. Within minutes of getting out of the car and standiing among a group of donkeys, one had caught my eye. I heard a very quiet 'hee' without the 'haw'. Looking round I saw a little grey donkey braying at me. That was it, I was smitten!
Over I went to give him a cuddle and found out that his name was Greystroke. At the age of 52, he is the oldest resident donkey who has been living at the Sanctuary literally for donkey's years.
Although he's the oldest resident donkey we have in Ireland, there's a donkey called Esmerelda living at one of our farms in Devon aged 56!.
Greystroke does have breathing problems, so lives with the 'bad breathers' group where they are bedded down on sawdust and their food is soaked first to help reduce the amount of dust which can aggrevate their breathing.
I also noticed that Greystroke picked up one of his back legs quite high when he walked. Tim Daly, the Farm Manager, told me this was called 'stringhalt' which is basically an overflexion of the joints in the hind limbs and can effect just one leg (unilateral) or can be bilateral. It is generally thought to be painless and not a cause for concern, particularly our donkeys that are not working.
As I continued to walk around taking photos, Greystroke followed me like a shadow and kept within arm's reach for a little extra TLC from me!