My regional welfare Officer, Allen Andrews, asked me recently to help with a visit to two abandoned donkeys. The donkeys had been abandoned at the foothills of the Newry mountains and had been taken in by a local farmer. The farmer had allowed the donkeys to graze on his land for a few months but did not have the time or expertise to continue to manage them with the winter approaching and had asked for our assistance to remove them.
Allen and myself travelled to view the donkeys and assess their situation. We were surprised to find two large, substantial donkeys running over a large area of hilly terrain with sheep. The donkeys had caught sight of us crossing the land and had shot out of sight snorting and trotting defiantly into the distance at our presence. We tried to pursue the donkeys but they would not entertain us getting in close proximity to them. We could neither assess their age, condition or sex from this distance. What we could assess was their ability to run well!
Goodness me... how on earth were Allen and myself to catch these donkeys that appeared as ‘wild as crows’ in this barren and uncontained area?
The farmer gently chuckled to himself, understanding the dilemma of the situation and suggested that he would get some farmhands to help round them up and drive them over several fields and into his yard.
We agreed to return with another welfare officer to help us with the loading of the donkeys as collecting and loading the donkeys was going to be no mean feat. And so we converged at the same point several days later – three welfare officers and two farmhands at the ready!
The donkeys had been herded into a smaller field and we gently approached them in the unrelenting rain to catch them for loading. The first of the donkeys was a magnificently built black coloured donkey standing short of 13hh – it took five of us to manually load him into the trailer. Soaked through, I turned round to view his companion. I noticed that this donkey was always standing with his near side facing me. What was he trying to tell me? Most equines are used to being handled from the left handside, nothing unusual there. He was trembling somewhat when we gently loaded him into the trailer with his companion. Both donkeys stood shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip in the trailer. Hmm... here were two strongly bonded donkeys, I wondered what their previous life had entailed?
Before leaving Allen confirmed that the farmer had asked that the donkeys be called after himself and his son – and so the donkeys were duly called George and Keith.
It is easy to fall into the trap of pre-judging donkeys before spending time handling and assessing them. Here were two donkeys (stallions at that) that had been aloof and wayward when viewed in their previous abandoned situation. I had expected them to be feisty and somewhat of a handful when I went to handle them in a ‘stabled’ setting but my predictions couldn’t have been further from the truth. George, the bigger of the two, was a sweet gentle giant and Keith was a quiet unassuming donkey, standing in George’s shadow. They are a pure delight to work with. Sometimes we need to have the ability to look beyond our initial observations and assess each animal on its own merits. Lesson learnt!
The following morning I went to feed the donkeys and it was then that I saw Keith ‘look up’ and the light catch his off side eye and I knew instantly there was a problem. The eye was clouded over. I moved in closer to have another look. My worst fears were realised when I waved my hand over his eyes a few times and he did not blink – he was blind in his off side eye.
I checked his nearside eye and there appeared to be full vision in it. This was later confirmed that day by my vet who believed that Keith had suffered some trauma to his eye in his earlier days. In all other regards Keith was assessed as healthy.
All of the subtle signs were there for the reading – Keith’s favouritism for standing facing most situations nearside on, his obvious anxiousness at being loaded and his deep bond and friendship with George. George always stands at Keith’s nearside (his seeing side) and is never more than a few feet away from him. I believe that George intuitively aids Keith and is aware of his ‘limited’ condition. I have watched George stand and watch Keith in the field and walk over to where he is grazing for reassurance and guidance. George is brilliant at looking after him. Wonderful, intuitive kind friends. They are amazing. I could watch them interacting for hours –These donkeys have taught me so much. They have an amazing bond and friendship that could in fact teach us all a lesson.
I hope that once George and Keith undergo all their necessary new arrival procedures when coming into the Sanctuary and that they will go on to be considered for the foster scheme as they have so much kindness and love to give.