There are times when, in order to work with donkeys, you need to clear away some of the clutter and concentrate, forget some of the clutter of your mind and it’s inevitable in modern day, fast paced living and find a way just to connect with the donkeys that you have to work with. Well I found a way today which was to spend a couple of hours mucking out their stables and stalls. Just being around them, clearing out their area allowed me to watch them to see who was comfortable and uncomfortable. It allowed me to just connect with them in a way that isn’t possible unless you just take the time to be in their environment.
It felt good to do some physical work and stop talking for a while and just shut up and listen, which has been one of the keys to success that I have been encouraging the course participants to do because when you’re listening you learn so much more than when you’re talking. So in the early morning California sun it was great just to spend time being around these amazing creatures who were starting to relax after their journey and after their interactions with the course participants yesterday.
Karen Rickards, our Senior Veterinary Surgeon at The Donkey Sanctuary, gave a couple of brilliant talks this morning, one of which she was pitched into at the last minute and met the challenge very admirably, engaging the audience and teaching them so much with these brilliant sessions on feeding and nutrition and the parameters of care for donkeys. It just reminds me how much information the Sanctuary has and how we help so many more donkeys by sharing this information. It is only by sharing our knowledge do we help more donkeys and people because yesterday Bob Venn, Senior Donkey Assisted Therapy Centre Manager at The Donkey Sanctuary, spent a great deal of time sharing the experiences and stories about donkey assisted therapy and the difference that makes in people’s lives. It also reminded me that across the globe, 24 hours a day, somebody who works for the Sanctuary or in one of our partner organisations, is caring for donkeys, improving their welfare and sharing their knowledge. And the more we share the more we learn and grow. I hope this conference here has encouraged more people in the United States to use the resources we have learnt over 40 years and are willing to share. There is no point in trying to reinvent the wheel and that The Donkey Sanctuary, with all the mistakes it has made in the past, has learnt so many things that we can improve donkey welfare at a rapid rate when people want to share the information and they know what we do.
There are so many differences between the welfare standards in different countries. Sometimes it is really good to get out of your own environment to be reminded about the standards of care that we have set up in the UK and while sometimes they seem frustrating, when you see the different sides of the coin, it reminds you that you wouldn’t want to go back and you wouldn’t want to have less standards of care, so it is a great reminder to me to share with my own colleagues at The Donkey Sanctuary the need for the rules and veterinary procedures that we have, because without them we wouldn’t be as good as we are at putting donkeys first, second and third.
Of course I have a lunchtime speech to make on behaviour change and obesity and this is something we are going to work more on to help owners in the UK in the coming months. It is a lot about human psychology and the difficulty we often have of denying our donkeys that bit of extra grass or a few treats because they look so longingly at us and they make us feel so happy inside when we give them that extra food they don’t really need. But yet again I find I am saying to the audience that the donkeys and the mules aren’t the problem, it is us that need to change and work on ourselves. It is a difficult topic to talk about at lunchtime as everybody sits eating their sandwiches and biscuits and I am showing pictures of the internal fat deposits of donkeys that have been allowed to get overweight, but it is well received and more than one person came up saying they were going to put themselves on a diet when they returned home.