I often find in my job that the most difficult tasks are often the most rewarding. Monday was the first day that I managed to get a head collar on one of our mules "Pauline". This mightn't sound like a massive accomplishment but when I tell you the story behind Pauline you might understand.
In October 2012 two mules - Doris and Pauline - were admitted into the Sanctuary's care having been found abandoned in a field in Belleek, Co Fermanagh and are currently living at my holding base until they are ready to travel down to the main Sanctuary in Devon.
When I collected Doris and Pauline, we couldn't get near them but luckily they ran up the ramp onto the lorry.
Over the next week they were examined by the vet and blood sampled - no easy task. For safety we had to handle them in a crush. This is a "box" with rails down both sides that allows us to get close to them without risk of injury to ourselves. I felt so sorry for them. They were terrified and would urinate uncontrollably and try to bite and kick us. When the blacksmith came we actually had to get the vet to give them a general anaesthetic before the blacksmith could get near their feet. They were so nervous that the vet had to give them a double dose before it had any affect. I hated watching them get so distressed during this handling.
Over the next few months myself and my helper, Leona, started to try and handle them - to say this was no easy task was an understatement. There was even talk of euthanizing them for safety reasons as some people felt they were untameable. We slowly built up trust with them. We put them in a crush and simply placed our hands on them to get them used to human contact. At first they were terrified but over the next few months gradually they got used to this. We would throw food on the ground in front of them to teach them that we would never harm them. Slowly we moved the food closer to us to make them approach us. Leona handled Doris and I handled Pauline. If we changed mules they would go crazy - proof that mules really do bond with one person. If Pauline got used to me touching her on the neck and I then touched her chest she would lash out with fear. It was really tough work and sometimes we did think taming them would be impossible but we stuck with it.
Two weeks ago Pauline finally took some food from my hand and this week I finally got the head collar on without using the crush. I feel so proud of our efforts. It's great to see the difference we can make in my job. I just wonder what horrors these mules were subjected to before we rescued them to make them so terrified of humans.