The donkeys finally arrive at 11.15am after a 28 hour journey. They did stop over night, but have been on the trailer a long time. And if I thought my journey of 21 hours was stressful, they’ve just trumped me and as donkeys do, they reminded me to be humble and not to complain too much.
They are reversed into the area that we are going to be working, come straight off the trailer and after a quick roll, they get straight into looking for morsels of food. It’s easy to see why we look at them and think that they suffered no stress from their long journey, but for the trained eye, they are clearly tired and feeling vulnerable to their new environment and surroundings.
The donkeys are a lovely group of different sizes from miniature through to larger donkeys and one mule named Abner who’s going on to be adopted by a museum of working practices in American history. We give them plenty of time to settle in as I go off to do a speech to 120 future vet students. The topic is about behaviour and welfare, but for me it’s about getting these future vets to realise the importance of behaviour in their future careers and the importance of working with people. While they might think they’re training to treat animals, wherever you work in the world, it’s working with the people that own and care for those animals that proves most important and it’s what The donkey Sanctuary is becoming particularly good at wherever it operates.
The participants are all bribed to come to the conference with pizza - not to say they wouldn’t have come anyway, but it’s normal for these lunchtime sessions. It’s certainly a new experience for me, but we have a great opportunity to talk and hopefully plant a seed that will grow in future years.
Sometimes with this work you have no idea what you’ve done will lead to so you have to have blind faith that one day the time and effort that’s put in will be repaid.
We return to the donkeys in the afternoon and we give them more space making sure they’ve been well fed and watered and spend some time wandering through them. In their true generous nature they allow me to stroke them. They seem quiet and ready in the most part for some human contact. We spend an hour talking to the course participants about what to expect and how we are going to work with the animals. Slowly and steadily listening to them all the time.
I am still kind of excited but nervous and am grateful that the donkeys which have been chosen for the afternoon clinics are calm and seem willing to interact with humans. This makes my ethical dilemma much easier and provided we enjoy ourselves, have fun and take our time, think it’s going to be a great success.
Tomorrow I’m doing a lecture to the whole conference on practical application of behaviour and then we’ll get into working with these donkeys and finally what they’ve really got to tell us and I look forward to sharing that with you.