During autumn half-term we were visited by one of our more elderly I Love Donkeys participants, Audrey. Audrey’s daughter, Kathrin, says that Audrey has been passionate about donkeys as long as she can remember – her mum always the first to spot the donkeys in the fields when on a family outing.
Kathrin recalled her younger life, when the family spent some time living in Ireland. Audrey was very concerned about the welfare of many of the donkeys, and desperately wanted to rescue them all, but unfortunately the family did not have the resources. When Kathrin discovered our centre a couple of years ago, she knew it was the obvious place to bring her mum Audrey for a treat, and last autumn she took part in her first I Love Donkeys day.
I recall Audrey very clearly from that day, and she had an impact on a number of our staff – some of our longer serving staff members said she had both a look and something of the manner of our beloved founder Dr. S, particularly whilst in the company of donkeys!
Sadly, Audrey’s health has deteriorated somewhat over the past couple of years, but she again made it back to join us for the autumnal I Love Donkeys, an encounter her daughter described as once again a ‘great success’!
Audrey was a rather quiet lady on the morning of the recent I Love Donkeys session, with barely a word spoken to any of us whilst out on the yard, but once in the arena with her new friend Harbin she became very chatty – it was as if the rest of the world had disappeared, and there was just Audrey and Harbin. She groomed him tenderly and reassured him that it was all okay, and he was safe now – a definite bond had formed, Harbin moving gently ever-closer to Audrey - perhaps because of the Irish connection; Harbin having been rescued from the roadside in Eire by The Donkey Sanctuary in autumn 2014.
Audrey’s carers let us know that she adopted all three of our Adopt-A-Donkey boys – Ripple, William D, and of course Billy O – and so a few magical moments were spent with these boys too. Audrey adopted the boys at Easter last year, as a gift to herself and her two children.
One of our grooms spent a short while chatting with one of Audrey’s carers, who told her that Audrey has very little capacity for short-term memory. However, she went on to tell us that, the day after previously joining us for the I Love Donkeys session last autumn she shared her experiences with them about her interactions with the donkeys. It is a commonly held belief that, whilst dementia suffers struggle to form new memories, sensory experiences can be retained more successfully.
It is easy to forget that, when we put on extra-curricular activities such as the I Love Donkeys, and ask guests to pay for the privilege of partaking as a form of fundraising, that these sessions can actually sit well with the rest of the work the donkey-assisted therapy centres do around the UK. A visit from Audrey brought back into sharp focus for me the fact that many who visit The Donkey Sanctuary are seeking some form of therapy – even if it is only a moment at the end of a stressful working day spent in the calming company of donkeys.
Indeed, one of our other I Love Donkeys attendees has been a regular visitor here this past year, despite living many miles away. Every quarter she travels to Leeds for a business meeting, and for her the stop off at the donkeys - to meet her favourite William and the rest of the boys - in the morning prior to this meeting is what makes these trips worthwhile! Lisa started visiting after William was adopted for her as a Christmas gift, and she says that an adoption renewal of this gorgeous boy is the only thing on her list to Santa this year! She shared with me her plan that, under our new opening hours of 3pm-5pm, she is now hoping to visit after her meetings on the way home – an encounter which will likely be even more therapeutic after a run-of-the-mill day of meetings.
Our new Schools Programme rolled out last spring has shown me that the therapy we can offer with donkeys is multi-faceted - learning about the donkeys, and how the haven of the sanctuary relates to the wider world, as well as actually interacting with the donkeys – these elements are all equally important. Similarly, all visitors to the sanctuary should be not considered simply as an opportunity to raise money and awareness for the charity, but as an opportunity for all to feel the benefit of being in the company of donkeys, a little time spent in the haven of the sanctuary. I feel that a visitor becomes a supporter, not the moment they realise that we need financial support to continue the work we do, but rather the moment they can correlate the feeling they get around the donkeys with how this joy is shared by the most vulnerable in all the communities in which The Donkey Sanctuary works.
Visitor & Events