My final day arrives and some of The Donkey Sanctuary staff prepare for their journey home but I am fortunate enough to have one more session with the donkeys this afternoon, so, just like yesterday, I spend the morning mucking out all the stalls and spending time around these donkeys that have been such a big part of my life for the last three days.
I get the chance to spend 20 minutes working with Abner the mule doing some training and progressing the work that we did with him on Saturday, it is amazing to see how far he has come already. When I return to the UK, I'm going to spend some time blogging specifically about my work with Abner to share some of the more technical behavioural elements of what we have been doing over here, so I hope you will join me for that.
There is a great talk at lunchtime about the problems facing the wild burro in the United States and the huge efforts that are going into finding homes for animals that have been taken off the ranges and the amazing things that these feral donkeys go on to achieve. From nervous unhandled creatures to parades, shows and donkey assisted therapy work. There is an endless stream of success stories that show the capacity of the donkey to learn and overcome its start in life. It does seem as though there are the same problems here that there are in the UK about finding enough good donkey loving homes to provide a loving permanent home for as many donkeys as possible.
There are so many donkeys here in animal charities and the wild burros and Bureaux of Land Management (BLM) programs that need to find homes; it is amazing to be around so many people who are doing their best to make this happen.
This weekend we have been able to find homes for seven of the animals we have been working with and the rest are going to two satellite foster facilities for Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue and they will be re-homed from there.
In the afternoon our participants join us again and we get straight to work with the donkeys trying to stretch their comfort zones but listening to them, it proves somewhat of a challenge as some of the donkeys have to be seen by the farrier and the changes and preparation that is going on around them for transportation later in the day unsettles them slightly. It is a great experience for participants to recognise the need to change our goals and reduce our expectations due to the environment that is being created around our work because that’s what happens in real life. Seldom does it go perfectly and it is great to be able to ensure you control what you do with the animals by putting them first. That’s the key to everything we have been talking about over here - the donkeys always come first.
Making sure that what we do is not about us or our ego or trying to prove how good we are or how far we can progress an animal and how quickly, but rather what are we doing in the best interests of that animal at all times, and yes, for sure we have to get things done but that doesn’t ever stop us thinking, how is the best way to do this and is what we are doing in the best interest of the animal?
As the clinic begins to break up people begin their long journeys home, it is fascinating to see and discuss with people what they have got out of the experience. Yet again, donkeys prove to be the most amazing teachers, the transformations in peoples’ understanding, knowledge and behaviour is purely down to the opportunities that the donkeys have given them. I really hope that the donkeys have also benefitted from this human interaction and that, in the long run, it provides great opportunity for them to find a loving, caring homes.
A participant comes up and tells me they have learnt more in this weekend than they have learnt in the last 20 years. It is hugely exciting to be part of somebody else’s life, even for a short time and you hope you are planting a seed that will affect the donkeys that other people will work with for a long time to come so that the work of The Donkey Sanctuary can continue even when we are not directly involved.
The Donkey Sanctuary is here to help everyone who wants it and we are extremely grateful for the support of everybody who supports and encourages our work in whatever way. Quite simply, without it the work that we have done this weekend wouldn’t be possible and it is reassuring to know that your support is helping make donkeys' lives better all around the world, in small ways, big ways, physical ways, in behaviour, knowledge and care. I have made some fantastic contacts and I know people from the US intend to visit The Donkey Sanctuary to learn more about our work and our mission to help two million donkeys in the next five years, swelled by a few more numbers that we have been able to make contact with this weekend.
For me, I have had an amazing experience working with the donkeys and Abner, the participants have been fantastic at stretching my comfort zones and asking difficult questions which have caused me to grow and learn and think. I have managed to lose my voice, had to deal with the stress of my laptop that’s not working properly and at the end of some 12 to 14 hour days, I am about ready to make the journey home with some time to reflect on how we can help more donkeys and their owners.
Look out next week for a behaviour blog about Abner and my work with him and how far he was able to progress in such a short time.