Born in Holland, adoption donkey groom Marleen spent many years of her career working for airline companies but what she really craved was to work with animals.
Having volunteered at a donkey sanctuary in Holland, she was finally able to realise her ambitions and in July 2014 Marleen joined The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth. Marleen says: “I love being with the donkeys every day and looking after them; grooming them, feeding them and giving them a clean home. It makes me very happy just being around them! They give you so much back and are wonderful animals. It makes me feel proud to talk about them with our visitors. I love sharing stories and introducing them to our adoption donkeys in particular.”
Back in July, I had the exciting task of hosting a live Q&A on Facebook. At midday prompt, my fingers were poised at the keyboard ready to start sharing my knowledge with all our lovely Facebook fans.
As with anything ‘live’, there’s always room for an unfortunate blunder! But luckily, the whole session went perfectly, and the questions about the lovely Gareth, Ashley and Ruby and our adoption programme came flooding in.
Working at The Donkey Sanctuary has taught me that our supporters love learning as much as they can about these beautiful animals. There’s so much work that goes on behind the scenes to ensure each donkey receives the correct care based on their individual needs.
If you’re interested in learning more, make sure you read on to find out about our work and the utterly gorgeous Gareth, Ashley and Ruby, who have recently joined the Adopt a Donkey scheme. We received a range of questions during the Facebook Q&A and I’ve put together a collection of some of them, which I hope you will find useful. Remember there are some factsheets in our Health and Welfare section, and you can keep up with all the latest antics of our gorgeous new adoption donkeys on Facebook, Twitter and the blog.
How do you select specific donkeys for the adoption programme?
As a groom I get to work with the donkeys on a day-to-day basis and soon get to know their unique personalities. This is essential for being able to make suggestions as to who would be a perfect fit. We always look at the donkey’s character and whether they enjoy the company of humans, as this is an important part of assessing their suitability for the scheme.
The next part of the process is to make sure they are fit and healthy, before we can introduce them to the scheme. Ashley, Gareth and Ruby had to be checked by our expert veterinary team and receive a full MOT and medical certificate before they could be launched onto the adoption programme.
I love Gareth because he's so little! What is his favourite treat?
Gareth might be the smallest of the trio but his size doesn’t stop him from being the leader – in fact, he loves organising all his friends. Gareth has a bit of a soft spot for carrots and being the King of the Herd that he is, he makes sure he is the first to get to the treats.
We monitor their diets carefully so we only give them treats every now and again. They only have small stomachs and are designed to eat little and often. Whenever we give them treats such as carrots, we always ensure they are cut correctly into chunks, to prevent the risk of choking.
What's involved in bringing a new donkey into the Sanctuary? Do you have to follow certain procedures?
Whenever a new donkey arrives at the Sanctuary they are kept within the New Arrivals unit for six weeks where they will have a number of check-ups. Travelling can induce infection so we always ensure that new arrivals have a clean bill of health and are free from infections before we introduce them to the rest of our herd.
The staff will also assess their characters before making a suggestion about which herd and which farm they would be suited to. For example, any donkeys with eye conditions are most likely to be housed in Shelter 3, which has been purposely equipped for donkeys with sight problems. Our priority is to make sure the donkeys settle in as smoothly and quickly as possible.
What is the funniest thing that Ruby has done since she arrived at the Sanctuary?
Ruby is quite a character and we recently had to 'Ruby-proof' all of the doors and gates in the Main Barn. Ruby became so adept at opening the locks with her teeth that she would take all of her friends and followers for a walk around the Sanctuary causing chaos! It's quite a sight watching the grooms and volunteers trying to round them back up! Cheeky Ruby!
I want to come and see Ashley, but what's the best day or time to visit? I'd love to see him being fed or groomed.
We’re open 7 days a week but you can come and meet Ashley here at the Sanctuary in Sidmouth with one of our members of staff every day from 11.35-11.45am or from 3.35-3.45pm. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to watch him being groomed, fed or mucked out. We love speaking to visitors and telling them all about their funny quirks and stable routines, so make sure you stop by and say hello!
When I come to visit the donkeys I always bring Polo Mints and ginger nut biscuits to leave with your reception for distribution amongst the donkeys as treats. Are there any other treats I can bring that the donkeys like?
Firstly, thank you! The donkeys love getting treats although for their wellbeing we have to give them out in moderation.
Ginger nut biscuits and Polo Mints are some of their all-time favourites and it’s best to only bring in these as they can be used by the veterinary department when they need to give donkeys their medication. Tablets can fit through the hole of the polo while any pastes can be sandwiched easily between two ginger nut biscuits, to help disguise the taste. These treats can be brought in and left in the Visitor Centre for staff to give out when needed.
What breed is Ruby? She looks like a mule.
This is actually a question we get asked a lot, but Ruby isn’t a mule or a Poitou – just a really big donkey. She was originally from Blackpool and like all beach donkeys, she was bred to be quite big. You can often spot this gentle giant on our webcam – no doubt waiting to meet and greet passers-by!
Is there any chance you will be getting more web cams on the other barns at Sidmouth as we all love watching our dear furry friends?
This is a great question! We are actually hoping to get another webcam to enable our fans and supporters to see more of their favourite donkeys and watch what they get up to during the day. We are looking into it as we speak, so watch this space!
Which of the newbies was the trickiest to photograph for the adoption packs?
This would probably have to be Ruby. Ashley had never been into the arena before and was often distracted by his new surroundings, but with Ruby being so tall we had difficulty trying to encourage her to keep her head up and ears forward. With the other donkeys, we could just shake packets of biscuits but sadly this didn’t have the desired effect with Ruby as we weren’t high enough. At one point, we had staff jumping up and down! Eventually one of our other grooms, Pete, got a broom with a carrot tied to the end and that seemed to do the trick.
They are all so lovely, how do I adopt one?
The most difficult choice is deciding which one to adopt, but if you’re really torn, we do have people who adopt multiple donkeys, which is a wonderful idea. You can read up about our new donkeys and their stories by visiting our dedicated Adopt a Donkey site. Adopting is easy and can be done online or by calling 01395 573133. You’ll then receive a fabulous adoption pack including a framed portrait, four beautiful postcards, a certificate and regular updates.
Don’t forget to check out our new video and discover more about our new donkeys.