Two donkeys, both alike in dignity in fair Kosovo where we lay our scene.
Shrek was born and grew up in an uncertain time in his home country of Kosovo, where he spent most of his young life with his friend Max working hard as smugglers donkeys. Kosovo used donkeys and ponies to smuggle goods such as cigarettes and ammunition, from the East to the richer countries in the West.
Each day was to bring them another adventure yet it would also bring another day of uncertainty. On occasion the smugglers were ambushed by NATO troops and the animals confiscated along with their cargo.The UN paid Kosovan Albanians to take care of the animals until they could be sold on.
In July 2002 Simon was the chief of staff of the NATO headquarters in Kosovo and took it upon himself to visit the farm unannounced where the animals were being kept.
"I was confronted by the horror of what can best be described as an equine 'concentration camp'. Large numbers of ponies were kept cooped up in pig pens, away from the light of day, with nothing to eat and a concrete floor for a bed. Consequently they were in very poor condition with ribs protruding and a haunted, far-away, stare on their faces.
"Listless and gaunt, they stood tightly packed in the semi-darkness awaiting whatever fate would befall them. This would be, commonly, an auction where they were sold to needy peasants to work on their smallholdings but it meant being held for up to eight weeks on this farm awaiting sufficient numbers to make the auction worthwhile.
"I ordered all the ponies to be turned out into the summer sunshine and the surrounding grass fields. As they made their way into the light and fell upon the lush grass there emerged from the gloom two small, thin, but otherwise healthy, desert donkeys, one brown and one grey. Their ages were difficult to determine although it was clear that they were both well into their twenties, with the brown one being the older. The military vet - retained by NATO to attend to the guard dogs - came and inspected all the animals and treated those who were in most need.
"The news reached the 600 headquarters staff who were only too delighted to visit in their free time and help restore the farm to some semblance of order. The Kosovan farmhands were hastily replaced with more reliable staff and in no time a proper holding centre was created and became an attraction for visiting VIPs from NATO and the UN.
"By late autumn my year's tour in Kosovo was drawing to an end. By now I had bonded with the two donkeys whom I had christened Max (Jaffacake, on account of his predilection for those biscuits) and Shrek. As I was returning home at Christmas I decided to try and organise a passage home for the pair aboard one of the military ships that left Thessaloniki each month.
"But although I had lived on and off with horses all my life I was unsure of the travelling habits of donkeys and certainly knew nothing of such afflictions as hyperlipaemia. I therefore rang the Sanctuary from my office in Pristina and asked the welfare department for advice. After a couple of calls I was told to leave them where they were and they would be collected on the next run to the Balkans. I was almost bowled over at this gesture and left strict instructions with a colleague to arrange their collection after I had left.
"The two were picked up by a Sanctuary lorry, along with a number of other less fortunate donkeys, one of whom had his ears cut off by a group of children in northern Greece. They were taken to the Sanctuary in France where they were all cleaned up and 'chipped'.
"Eventually I was telephoned by Paul Svendsen and asked where I wanted them delivered. Thus it was that in April 2003 I met Paul with Max and Shrek on board his trailer at a lay-by near Blindfold in Dorset and led him to my home a few minutes away. They had travelled well and were looking good after their rescue and rehabilitation in the warmth of France.
"Unconcerned by all the attention, they had a look at their new barn and wandered off to stock up on a few blades of grass in the paddock. So began their life in Dorset. They were looked after daily, but not put into work. The two often went for walks, meeting the locals and even attending a village church service.
"Both donkeys were very affectionate although Max was more of a private person and looked embarrassed when cuddled by the children. Shrek had no such qualms and often barged in for his share of attention - and food! Their security awareness was not good and the banging of the feed bin lid gave them away every time.
"Max died on November 14th 2015, peacefully, in the yard outside his stable. And now with his faithful wingman lying on the cold yard floor Shrek seemed to know that life as he knew it was going to change for ever. His friend whom he had mercilessly bossed about, was gone and he seemed lost. Even after he had accepted that Max was no more, Shrek rarely ventured out of his stable, standing in the shadows, and eating very little.
"The stuffing had been knocked out of him; even a ginger nut was munched disconsolately and without enthusiasm. Something had to be done before depression set in, so calls were made to the Sanctuary and elsewhere to see if a mate could be found that would match Shrek's nature."
When the call was made to the welfare team at The Donkey Sanctuary that Shrek desperately needed a companion the search began immediately. It’s very hard to find a single older donkey who is not bonded to another already or is fit enough medically to be moved to a new home, so the search can take a long time.
It just so happened that the following day The Donkey Sanctuary had a call that a single older donkey was in need of a home who went by the beautiful name of Rosalie. Both Rosalie and Shrek’s medical needs, characters and personalities matched so well that it seemed like fate they were one day meant to meet.
Alison Beck, Donkey Welfare Adviser, said: "In my role as a Donkey Welfare Adviser, I come across all sorts of donkeys, small ones, big ones and sometimes some that just melt your heart the moment you set your eyes upon them. Rosalie was one such donkey.
"I was asked to visit a home, that for personal reasons, could no longer care for her and asked for her to come to The Donkey Sanctuary. Rosalie had been rescued from a French circus, eight years ago. Whilst the practice of using donkeys in circus acts is lessening, some donkeys are still made to perform. Rosalie was one of the lucky ones to find a loving home in the UK.
"My fellow Donkey Welfare Adviser had been contacted by a home in Dorset looking for a companion for their recently bereaved donkey, Shrek. It was at this time that Sophie and I did some matchmaking and the lovely gentle Rosalie went to meet Shrek, and what stories they both have to share in their stable."
The beautiful Rosalie arrived in Dorset to her new family in January. She was fairly nonchalant when she gracefully walked off the lorry and I believe Shrek probably couldn’t believe his luck as he watched this tall, dark, leggy donkey descend from the lorry with such elegance.
Two donkeys, both alike in heart and soul, in fair Dorset, where we end our happy scene.
Happy Valentines from Rosalie and Shrek