We often talk about the importance of a providing an environment that allows donkeys to express their natural behaviour and our visitors enjoy watching the relationships between our donkeys and their friends. Whether they are running through the fields, playing with toys or interacting with each other, we love to see donkeys doing what they do. Not only is it entertaining, providing donkeys with the opportunity to behave freely is highly beneficial to their welfare. As welfare advisers, we often come across situations where donkeys are managed in ways that do not allow them the space, resources, enrichment or company that they require.
Having an awareness of donkey behaviour is vital in our role, as it allows us to help, guide and advise donkey owners towards a more positive management options. When talking about donkey behaviour you will often hear of donkeys needing ‘a friend’. In most cases, donkeys enjoy company of their own kind as they can develop very close friendships with one another, hence the term ‘bonded pair’. Separating a bonded pair can not only cause huge amounts of distress but can also have a devastating impact their physical health by increasing the risk of hyperlipaemia. So when we were called to help Ginny and Mini, a donkey / pony duo, we had to consider what impact their friendship would have on any decisions we made.
When assessing bonding behaviour we follow a step by step process of observation that helps us determine if the pair are bonded, and, to what extent. It was quickly apparent that Ginny was very strongly bonded to Mini.
Sadly, they were both suffering from severely overgrown hooves which required immediate veterinary care. Poor Mini had hooves so long they had spiralled back on themselves towards her leg. We asked a vet to take X-rays of their hooves and provide pain relief before transporting them to our emergency holding base.
It may have been a Bank Holiday but with the help of the RSPCA, compassionate staff, a dedicated vet, and a very skilled farrier, the pair were settled into their new home and the long process of remedial farriery treatment began.
Mini and Ginny will require frequent treatments to gradually correct the irregular angle of the hooves caused by years of neglect. Unfortunately Mini has other health problems, and, X-Rays of her hoof revealed some bone changes which may affect her recovery.
It is never easy witnessing the impact of human failings but it always amazes me how resilient animals can be in the most dire of circumstances. Whilst we cannot predict what the future holds for these firm friends, they are entering into this challenging chapter of their lives as any best friends would, together, side by side.