As Donkey Welfare Advisers we often find ourselves giving advice on how owners can improve the lives of their animals by providing a suitable and enriched environment to allow the donkeys the opportunity and freedom to exhibit natural behaviours. Every now and then, we come across a situation where more immediate action needs to be taken before a suitable solution for both donkeys and owner can be reached. Alan and Hazel are now permanent residents of The Donkey Sanctuary but the story of how they came to us is far darker than you would expect...
Last year we were called to help other agencies at a property where a number of animals were found, including two donkeys. I was pointed towards a barn and told that the donkeys were inside. Walking through the barn was tricky - it was so dark that I could not see in front of me without use of a torch. I called to them and soon afterwards heard them braying in response. Once I reached them, they were curious as to what I was doing and we soon made friends over a ginger biscuit and a scratch. Arrangements had been made for the donkeys to be placed temporarily into our care whilst the other agencies made further enquiries with the owner. I got to work organising transport and a safe stable for them at one of our nearby emergency holding bases.
A few days later I was able to contact the owner who told me the donkeys were named Alan and Hazel in memory of his son’s grandparents. Both donkeys had been offered for sale directly out of the back of a lorry which had travelled from Ireland. Hazel, who is a very sweet-natured donkey caught their eye, whilst Alan was given to them free of charge as a companion. Alan was a stallion and unwanted by the seller. The issue of over-breeding is one of the largest challenges facing equine welfare organisations in the UK and Ireland. It was obvious talking to Alan and Hazel’s owner that in the short time he had owned the donkeys they had become very attached to them but had limited knowledge of how to provide for their needs.
Alan was the more cautious of the two donkeys, he required more time to adapt to change and it became apparent that he was very unsure of dark or confined spaces. The holding base found that leaving the lights on in the stable block and allowing him to move through doorways at this own pace helped to build his confidence. Alan was also very nervous of buckets so he and Hazel were given a stable with an automatic water feeder and he was fed from the floor.
Alan and Hazel are very bonded and therefore when the time came for Alan to be castrated, Hazel travelled with him to the veterinary hospital to keep him company. The two have remained inseparable friends, Hazel often greets Alan with a head rub which is just adorable!
By working with the owner we were able to discuss the options available and decide upon the best long term welfare solution for these two firm friends. Before donkeys are relinquished into the care of the Sanctuary we talk the owners through the process and what this entails. We consider all the options available before deciding which is most suitable choice for their donkeys taking into account the age, health and behaviour of individual animals. Our office staff are able to keep the owners informed on the donkey’s well-being throughout their time with us and whilst we do give suitable donkeys the chance of a new home through our rehoming scheme, we never sell our donkeys meaning they are afforded the support of the Sanctuary for life.
I am happy to say Alan and Hazel now have a bright future ahead of them as we welcome them to The Donkey Sanctuary and they certainly look to be enjoying life in the summer sunshine (when it appears)!