Earlier in the year you may have read about our European partners' meeting, bringing together all our Donkey Sanctuary-funded outreach project partners.
Over the summer Andrew Judge, European Operations manager, and myself – Alex Thiemann, vet, have been visiting the projects to gain an overview of the similarities and differences and see how best to continue to support this work.
Our first visit coincided ironically with the momentous Brexit vote - we were in Cyprus when the news came through!
Cyprus has a long-established programme where a mobile team visits remote rural locations providing donkey care throughout the spring and autumn.
They have wonderful relationships with the village communities and we were considerably surprised to see a good number of sprightly octogenarians riding their donkeys to the clinic under the trees.
These older residents have a long-devoted history working their donkeys in the fields, and the mobile teams now provide the only vet and farrier care these donkeys ever receive.
Many of the locations we visited were challenging to find and the teams work long days in 30-40 degree heat to reach out and serve these donkeys.
Although it might seem that donkeys will reduce in relevance as the small farms decline, my guess is that their role will develop and change but not fade out.
We met younger owners breeding donkeys, owning milking donkeys and trying to use them as tourist attractions. In one particular case we were involved in the donkey was in a pitiful state due to severe laminitis and incorrect feeding, and needed to be carefully treated with the owner being kept on side at all times.
Our next visit was to northern Portugal where we work with AEGPA – an association dedicated to the welfare of the donkeys in the Miranda do Douro region.
The local vet here has been so successful in raising awareness of the need for donkeys to receive care that the outreach team were greeted with the sight of nearly 30 donkeys and mules waiting patiently in the street for them.
The donkeys here are large but very gentle, and again often used by older men and women for agricultural work- weeding potatoes, harvesting olives, carrying hay, and pulling carts.
In many cases we saw overlong neglected feet, overweight donkeys with chronic foot pain, and abnormal gait due to tight pastern hobbles.
The work in these areas is an interesting mix of the problems that the international teams see with harness and hobble injuries (but at a lower level due to the reduced work load), and the problems the UK teams see – obesity, laminitis and dental disease.
So the overriding message is that we are going to need to work together as an organisation to improve education about the welfare needs of the donkeys, and to train up future generations of farriers, vets and technicians who are passionate about donkeys.
So far, Brexit or not - it is clear to me that the many donkeys in Europe depend on small dedicated teams of skilled individuals for their welfare needs, and I am delighted that the The Donkey Sanctuary continues to provide care in these remote regions.
We are heading off to Romania, Greece and Crete next so watch out for further thoughts from Europe.