Keith and Margaret Todd have been donkey owners for many years and make regular visits to our Axnoller farm in Dorset to visit Cliff, a donkey who lived with them until coming to live at the Sanctuary 16 years ago. As huge donkey enthusiasts they were keen to take a more active role at the farm and were therefore interested in enrolling as Quality Time Volunteers (QTVs).
Here at the Sanctuary we love to see our donkeys receiving the benefits of individual care and attention. We have a team of QTVs who give up their time to get ‘hands on’ with the donkeys. I went along to Paccombe Training Centre to meet Keith and Margaret and see what happens on the training course.
The training staff at Paccombe make sure that all our QTVs are given the information and guidance that they will need to make their experience enjoyable and safe. Although Keith and Margaret have years of experience of looking after donkeys, entering a barn that houses up to 60 donkeys brings a whole new set of considerations.
After a session explaining the safety implications of working within large groups of donkeys and teaching the group of QTVs aspects of donkey behaviour and signs of ill-health to look out for, we headed out to the training yard for a practical demonstration of grooming and walking a donkey.
After lunch, the techniques learnt in the morning sessions were put to the test when our QTVs visited Cherry barn and were asked to catch a donkey and put on a head collar. This is not always an easy task. Margaret’s donkey, Peter, was caught without too much trouble but Keith had been assigned a donkey named Mimosa who was not too keen to be caught. With a great deal of patience and perseverance Keith was able to put Mimosa at ease and lead her to be groomed.
All the QTVs were then asked to groom their donkeys under the watchful eyes of the training team who were also assessing their techniques and offering advice on how best to put the donkeys at ease. These practical sessions are designed to give the QTVs experience in handling donkeys so that they are safely and confidently able to help on the farms independently of our grooms.
After a full day of activities, Keith said: “We really enjoyed the day and even though we have looked after donkeys for many years we still learnt a lot and it was great to sharpen up our skills. We both found grooming and gaining the trust of the donkeys very relaxing and rewarding.”
Margaret said: “The afternoon session we spent in Cherry barn was very helpful and enjoyable. It was good to have the time to totally focus on the donkeys and be shown how to groom them and pick up their feet in the correct way. It was well worth doing and we have a great day.”
Throughout the day the training team explained that human companions need to slow their pace down to match that of the donkey. It is precisely this that makes spending time with donkeys so very relaxing; I think the whole group managed to finish the day with serene smiles on their faces.
Thanks to Keith and Margaret for letting me join them on the course, I hope that they enjoy their time as QTVs.