It’s not particularly usual as a staff member of The Donkey Sanctuary to put personal stories on this page, but I’m hoping nobody minds this exception!
My name is Daniel, and I’ve been coming to the centre here at Eccup for around 8 years now, the past 18 months as an employee. Ten years ago, in the Spring, my wife gave birth to Grace Eloise McLoughlin – she was born very prematurely and had significant additional needs. She had a very active physio programme from an early age, and at around the age of three someone casually suggested we bob along to The Donkey Sanctuary at Eccup – even though it was on our doorstep we hadn’t heard of it!
For the next five years Grace rode and grew. She benefitted so much from the riding therapy she got here, and it complemented her other physio tremendously. But more than that she grew with the love and support that surrounded her (and us as her family) here at the Centre. I could drone on for hours about the way the therapy helped Grace both physically and emotionally, but suffice to say I am forever in The Donkey Sanctuary’s debt for the happiness they brought Grace (and us watching her) and the support they gave her to achieve significant goals in her life.
But the help we got from the Sanctuary doesn’t quite end there, and is a testament to the charity – how their work spreads beyond their animal welfare work caring for abused or abandoned donkeys, beyond the support they give to children with additional needs through donkey assisted riding therapy, even beyond the work they do in the wider community with their Outreach programme, serving both young and old in need alike.
For Grace by
A little over two years ago, four days short of her eighth birthday, our Grace passed away. It was heart-breaking and still is. One of the hardest journeys I made shortly after her death was to the Sanctuary at Eccup to talk to all the staff, who we had all got to know well over the years. But I’m so glad I did make that journey. The sanctuary had long been Grace’s haven, a place where the challenges she faced daily in the outside world simply melted away, and now it had become my haven. I received such outpourings of kindness and comfort, and it never felt like I wasn’t welcome – people genuinely understood what I was going through there, dealing with the sad loss of young lives more frequently than in many walks of life.
I visited on a number of occasions over the following year, and started to consider the possibility of working for The Donkey Sanctuary. In the intervening period my mum had joined them as a volunteer, and in the early summer of 2014 I joined the team too. I wanted to work with people who cared, and who truly gave something back throughout their working days. I now work daily with the donkey assisted therapy riders, and can’t tell you the joy I get from seeing them achieve their goals, no matter how small. I love the donkeys, particularly because I know exactly what they are capable of – bringing joy to so many, and strength to those who need it. And I enjoy the camaraderie among my now colleagues.
It’s not just one thing that makes The Donkey Sanctuary special to me, it’s everything they did for my daughter Grace, my family, and for me. And it’s the unique environment in which I am honoured to be able to work every day. To me, this week’s celebration of 40 years of donkey assisted therapy is possibly the most significant milestone I will be a part of (until 50 that is, hopefully!), as donkey assisted therapy was and is a very big part of my life and, as importantly, a huge part of the memories I cherish of my wonderful daughter Grace.