The opportunity to work with my Italian counterpart for three days was something not to be missed and on my first day I was shown around Il Rifugio, our Sanctuary in Northern Italy near Biella. Nestled at the foot of the Alps in beautiful countryside, it currently houses 120 donkeys and 30 mules.
Fabrizio, the Italian Donkey Welfare Adviser, gave me an overview of the work they are doing at the centre and around Italy. The aim, as ever, is to help as many donkeys as possible, monitor working donkeys and to raise the profile of The Donkey Sanctuary as currently there is little awareness of our work in Italy.
The afternoon was taken up with visiting a new born foal whose mother was unable to feed her. Around some 40 minutes from Il Refugio, the owner of the donkey had contacted us after asking a friend for help. Ginger had mastitis which meant that it was painful for her to feed Viola. Unfortunately this had happened on three previous occasions and each time the foal had died. Not through any deliberate act of the owner but simply that he did not recognise the problem nor know how to deal with it.
When Fabry and I arrived, we found the mother tethered and the rope wrapped around the foal’s neck. Fortunately they sorted themselves out but the potential for a disaster was there. We were informed that part of the fencing was in poor repair and that without the tether, Ginger would take off in the direction of the stallion Fred, housed a few hundred yards away.
Just 5 days old, little Viola was only being fed three times a day by bottle and was clearly hungry. She ideally needed feeding every couple of hours for at least the first month of her life but the owner was unable to cope with such a demanding routine.
Fabry discussed the situation with the owner whilst I whispered a promise to Viola that we would do everything we could to give her the best chance of life. Reluctantly we left mum and baby there, after asking the owner to feed her as often as possible, to return to Il Rifugio to discuss what help we could offer.
Viola’s future depended on us.