Hand on heart I have to say I adore my job as a Welfare Officer for The Donkey Sanctuary and each day is varied bringing a different set of challenges and issues that make the work incredibly interesting. I get to work with what I consider to be the most wonderful and unique animals ever - donkeys! The job is a real eye opener; we get to meet all sorts of people from different backgrounds and walks of life and some of the situations we deal with can at times be strange and quirky as well as saddening and sinister.
For me the real value of a rewarding day is when we action a change that will remove pain and suffering or change for that single animal that has perhaps endured a lifetime of neglect or mismanagement (whether deliberate or as the result of genuine ignorance).
And so unto my story of Moonshine... Moonshine the donkey that is, not the liquid variety!
The Lammas Fair takes place in Ballycastle, Co. Antrim annually on the last Monday and Tuesday of August. Equines play a big part of the fair and the Sanctuary has been in attendance for the last decade or so to monitor conditions and the welfare of donkeys. Last year saw huge improvements in condition at the fair with the introduction of hay, water and straw, a suitable holding area and the presence of a security team and vets.
This year the Sanctuary had a low key presence at the fair as it was deemed that the improvements instigated last year would be re-applied this year. All seemed to go well... so that was Lammas Fair over for another year then.
Well no, not quite...
Late on the Tuesday evening I received a call from Grace in Moyle Council that there was a donkey related problem.
A donkey had gone unaccounted for amongst a group of horses and had been abandoned at the end of the fair. The owner simply saw no value in the donkey in the current economic climate and had loaded his horses unto the trailer, drove off and simply left the donkey behind to defend for itself on the streets of Ballycastle.
Thankfully Esther, Grace and Una from Moyle Council acted swiftly and temporarily penned the donkey in a nearby livestock yard. They provided it with hay and water but admitted that they were in a dilemma as they did not have any experience of managing donkeys (they couldn’t catch him or even get near him) and could not care for the animal indefinitely. Could the Sanctuary help?
I contacted Allen Andrews the regional welfare officer for Northern Ireland who was undertaking Council Welfare training at the time and he reiterated the procedure with dealing with abandonments. However as the donkey had no immediate provision of care he requested I liaised with Moyle Council about getting the donkey lifted as soon as possible. The PSNI had been notified about the donkey being abandoned and an incident note had been established.
I wondered what the donkey was like and what it had endured in its previous life.
Anyway , I was soon on the road and driving the hour and a half to Ballycastle to assist with the abandoned donkey.
On arrival at the livestock yard everything was locked up and I could not access the pens. Thankfully Una met up with me and led me to where the donkey was penned. Gosh! What a beautifully marked skewbald donkey he was and quite a big and well proportioned donkey at that. What was unusual was that the brown marking on his near side shoulder and below his wither appeared to be in the shape of a donkeys head!
Looking down at his front hooves I could see that they had been neglected (an all to common occurrence here) and were long and distorted. I then proceeded into the pen; there was clearly something wrong here as his behaviour was one of fear. I gingerly tried to approach him with a head collar and could see the white in his eye and the petrified expression in his face and stance. Here was one seriously frightened donkey. He clearly displayed all the signs of an animal that had been roughly handled. After several minutes spent trying to get near him I eventually managed to get him into a corner and got a head collar on him. He was so scared of human touch that he dipped his back away from my hand, tightened over his quarters, crouched down, clamping his tail firmly planted between his hocks.
Warily I persuaded him to walk to the trailer and with the help of Una we got him loaded. Trembling with fear, he seemed relieved that the ramp was up and he could nibble at the hay in peace inside the trailer. I asked Una if the donkey had a name and she said no they hadn’t gave him one. I thought ‘Moonshine’ would be an appropriate name given that a lot of dubious behaviour and drinking takes place at Lammas Fair.
Una signed off the relinquishment forms and Moonshine passed into the hands of The Donkey Sanctuary and into a world of safety and care the likes of which he had probably not previously experienced.