By the time visitors have said hello to the "diet" donkeys, been entertained by Ashley and the other eight little donkeys, been touched by the dignity of the blind donkeys and have laughed at the antics of baby George, it could be easy to miss Shelter 5 altogether when walking around The Donkey Sanctuary – which would be a great shame.
Shelter 5, at the far end of Walk A, is home to three donkeys called Myles, Apollo and Toby, and a mule called Gypsy. Recently Phil and I have been spending a lot of time with this interesting little group and are gradually winning their trust.
Gypsy is a lovely mule who for 15 years was the companion of our much-missed Poitou stallion, Torrent. After a period of grieving, Gypsy has relaxed into being part of this small select group and seems to have been accepted by all three donkeys. Gypsy was a little shy at first, but now he recognises Phil and I, he readily comes over for cuddles and a grooming – which is invariably followed up by a good roll!
Apollo is a Grand Noir donkey – and as the name suggests, he’s a large black French donkey. Before coming to the Sanctuary, Apollo was a stallion who had fathered many beach donkeys. Tragically Apollo was involved in an accident while he was in transit, resulting in a serious spinal injury requiring specialist surgery – which is how he ended up at the donkey hospital here at the Sanctuary. Fortunately the best donkey vets in the world were on hand to put Apollo back together again and to make him as fit as possible – although not fit enough to continue his stud duties, so he was gelded and has been at the Sanctuary ever since. In spite of all that has happened to him, Apollo is one of the gentlest and friendliest of donkeys. He loves his ears being scratched and enjoys resting his head on our shoulders while he’s being brushed. He’s a big donkey with a big heart!
Myles is almost unique at The Donkey Sanctuary – as he is an uncut jack – or stallion. When Myles arrived at the Sanctuary, in common with all other stallions he was dispatched to the hospital to be gelded but during the preliminary medical the vets discovered that Myles has a heart-murmur. To proceed with the operation would have almost certainly been fatal for Myles – so he remains intact! He wears a white collar as a reminder to everyone that he is to be kept well away from the girls – we definitely don’t want to hear the pitter-patter of anymore tiny hooves! It was while Myles was in hospital that he met Apollo and they struck up a friendship that continues today.
Toby, at 7 years of age, is the youngest of the four animals in this group. He is a lovely looking donkey but has had lots of behaviour issues in the past. He’s very nervous and because of that, he can be a little unpredictable. Since living with the big, friendly Apollo, Toby has learned that it’s ok to trust his grooms, but he is still very wary of anyone else.
Phil and I have been learning to gain the trust of both Myles and Toby through working with Apollo. At first we would only groom Apollo and Gypsy – the other two would run off anyway! As the weeks have passed, Myles and Toby have edged closer and closer – so close in fact that we have been able to stroke their muzzles whilst grooming the other two. Today, however, we went one better – Toby actually approached us as we walked across the field! Phil and I crouched down and waited. Not only did Toby come close – he let Phil give him an ear scratch! Not to be left out, Myles also came over for an ear scratch whilst we were grooming Apollo. And to my amazement Toby returned to me and let me rub his neck and back. Who knows, perhaps next week we’ll get to brush them!