So the three donkeys and their friends that I worked with yesterday have now been loaded onto a trailer ready for their long journey back to Texas, so there are no donkeys for me to work with today and I head off to the conference centre to learn all about the work of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the donkeys and mustangs in their care on the federal lands in America.
The sheer scale and size of the operation and the problems they face soon becomes apparent. The BLM looks after 32 million acres and in total they have about 40,600 equines, that’s 33,780, at the last count, of mustangs, and 6,825 wild Burros (donkeys), in addition to that the BLM cares for some 33,800 mustangs in long term facilities and pastures and has a further 15,143 animals in short term locations, the sheer scale of their enormous task becomes apparent, the difficulties of balancing the needs of the wild horses and donkeys, the range management, the use of all the different areas falling within the law, meeting the welfare standards of those animals in their care is an enormous task. There is no easy answer, the BLM often receives a great deal of criticism for its rounding up and removal of animals from the range, although there is always room to learn and improve. From the videos and pictures we see it is pretty clear that without their management thousands of animals would starve to death and the range that they live on would be destroyed for perhaps hundreds of years into the future, there are no easy answers.
Like everything, it just puts the problems that we work with in donkeys and mules into perspective. The Donkey Sanctuary cares for around 4,500 donkeys and mules and currently manages to reach around a million donkeys with its work directly or through partnerships. Yet our new aim is to reach two million donkeys and mules, the enormous challenges facing organisations like The Donkey Sanctuary, the BLM and every small charity out there are only too apparent, you need facilities, money, time, good staff to be able to deliver on the care and welfare that is required by the animals that we all love so much.
It is pretty clear that only by working together with other organisations, by sharing our knowledge and experiences that we are going to be able to tackle the enormous challenges of donkey and mule welfare around the world; this is brilliantly summed up by David Cook, the CEO of The Donkey Sanctuary, as he makes a presentation to the symposium, starting with the wonderful video encapsulating Dr Svendsen's life and her legacy and going on to explain the sheer size and scale and demands that face the Sanctuary and the incredible achievements that occur every day that demonstrate what amazing work the Sanctuary does.
Following the video, there are quite a few tears and that happens again when David shows a video of some of the work of our donkey assisted therapy centres and the Romanian video of our partnership in Romania providing donkey assisted therapy facilities.
Actually, I am called away in the middle of all of this, Dr Eric Davis the driving force of this event in co-ordination with a great team, comes up and asks if I wouldn’t mind going over to the corrals again and maybe doing a little bit of work with the donkey with the feet problems from yesterday as his owners are coming to pick him and his friends up and maybe I could find a way to talk to them about the obesity in their donkeys.
It is always a daunting task to have to tell an owner that their donkey is fat and there are certain ways to do it but you can’t get away from the fact that a fat donkey is a welfare issue, there is nothing good about being a fat donkey and it is our responsibility to be able to try and control their weight.
You see, there are different welfare issues in different parts of the world, some donkeys may not be fed properly and become painfully thin through hard work or ill-fitting harness, many donkeys in the western world become obese, suffer from liver and kidney problems associated with being overweight, along with the increased risk of laminitis and arthritis, just because they do no work and are fed incorrectly, it is a massive welfare problem.
Bless him, I was able to go in and catch Joseph, and almost instantly he was letting me pick up all four feet like it had never been a problem, it is incredible the amount of trust these animals develop so quickly if you are consistent, patient and use some positive reinforcement. His owners turn up with a trailer to pick him up and we have a bit of a conversation, and it turns out that, unfortunately, these donkeys belong to a charity who have 80 horses and the donkeys are kept as pasture ornaments but in truth, the lady who is employed to look after them admits she doesn’t actually like donkeys and prefers horses, as does the handy man who helps her, but she recognises that they are overweight and she says she has tried but she has met resistance within the charity and this is an all too common problem of misunderstanding what true welfare is all about, so we chat about it and she agrees for me to send her all the information we have on obesity and training for picking up feet which they also say they don’t have time to continue.
It feels a little disheartening but of course that’s the nature of welfare work, you do everything you can, sometimes you win big, sometimes you don’t win at all and sometimes you just open a small window and you might never know whether you have made a difference in the long run but you have to rely on the possibility or you would give up and never do anything.
It has been a tremendous opportunity to come and work here for the first time for The Donkey Sanctuary, for us, as a team, to be able to display what we do from the work overseas to the work of our farms, the sheer scale of the things we have to organise, the donkey assisted therapy centres, the amount of fundraising, marketing, PR, just the incredible machinery that we are all part of at The Donkey Sanctuary that makes the work of helping donkeys possible.
I am not sure that many people had an idea of the true size of what we do and what’s fantastic looking at our new strategic plans for the next five years and beyond is that we are going to work more in collaboration with more organisations to offer support, help, to share our existing knowledge, and hope that we can reach those two million donkeys that are our target.
In truth, yet again, I have been humbled by the passion and enthusiasm of people who want to care for donkeys and mules and in the case of the BLM, horses too. The massive scale of the problem sometimes seems daunting but when you are in a room full of 130 people with the same aims, goals, ambitions, desires, you get a sense that something amazing is possible, that actually with continued co-operation, with renewed opportunities to work together and the continued support of the amazing Donkey Sanctuary supporters whose donations of money and time truly do make a difference on so many levels, that one day we will get there and we will reach all the donkeys that we need to and yet again I am indebted to The Donkey Sanctuary and its supporters for the opportunity to make a small difference to a few donkeys and to rely on that gently rippling effect of the work we do to spread out to make a massive difference to many more donkeys that we will never see or know about.
Thank you for taking the time to read these blogs and for your support of The Donkey Sanctuary.
Bye for now.