William arrived at The Donkey Sanctuary in March 2012 with three companions, Oscar, David and Buttons. When he first arrived he was only two years old and had very little experience of humans. He was incredibly nervous to handle or even approach to start with. He separated from two friends, Oscar and David, and stuck with his best friend Buttons who loved people. We thought that if we could bring William around to trust us,then we would have a fighting chance of finding him a forever home on our rehoming scheme. In November 2014 we decided that we would move William and his best friend Buttons to a small group with only four other donkey to see if this would help him to trust us, without lots of other donkeys rushing around him in the large barn.
We found William’s behaviour started to improve almost immediately. We slowly started to interact more and more with him, taking him for walks around obstacles to help build his confidence with new situations, and for walks in the woods. Although William appeared to really enjoy this, to begin with he would hold his friend's lead rope in his mouth for comfort. Within a relatively short time he learnt to trust us in every situation, so we put him forward as ready to be rehomed.
Unfortunately when the vet came to give him a medical, it became apparent that he was extremely scared of needles. Now nobody really likes going to the doctors but unfortunately for our donkeys they have to be able to be examined and have blood samples taken so that they can be monitored not only at the Sanctuary but also when they go to their new foster homes. Sometimes the best way to administer medication is via an injection, so this was a major hurdle for us and William to get over.
All of our grooms wear dark blue jumpers and our vets wear green ones, so in case William was distinguishing between these, we first borrowed a green jumper so that he could realise that it didn’t matter what jumper you wore he could still trust us! We then covered ourselves in surgical scrub to make us smell like a vet. Several times a week we would go into his yard with a stethoscope around our neck, looking like a vet, smelling like a vet and would mimic the position a vet gets into in order to take a blood sample as well as putting pressure on the vein (known as raising a vein) as if a blood sample was about to be taken. We then asked our vet to come and groom him and practice the process of taking a blood sample without actually taking the blood.
William quickly appeared confident with this so it was decided that it was time to try and take another blood sample. This started well but the moment the needle enters the skin, William spun around, trying to squash the vet and became incredibly difficult for our grooms to restrain.
Finally we asked our Donkey Care Training Manager, Ben Hart, to help us overcome William’s fear of needles. He showed us a step by step program that we could use to help William calm down and accept that although it wasn’t a nice thing to have done, it would all be over quickly and he would be OK afterwards! This did take some time and baby steps were needed. It was essential that all of our grooms knew what the programme entailed so that we were all following the same plan to help William. It would not work if we were all trying different approaches as William would get very confused by it all. After a short time on this behaviour plan William started to improve. He was finally able to trust us enough and would allow any one of us to potentially take a blood sample or give an injection.
In March 2016 William and Buttons headed out into the big wide world to live happily ever after in their new forever home in Yorkshire.
Every donkey that we have is very different and although sometimes it is difficult for us to rationalise a fear or worry that they have we must be able to adapt our behaviour to accommodate this and help them to overcome it. They cannot tell us why they are worried so we need to learn how to communicate with them in a way that they understand and can communicate back to us. William and Buttons have a bright and happy future ahead of them and we are so proud of them.