Christmas is always a very busy time for all of our donkey assisted therapy centres and particularly so for the Outreach team. Here at Sidmouth we increase the amount of visits we make, from three days a week to five, for the whole of November and December. Our donkey interaction visits are very popular all throughout the year and even more so in the festive season, when there is certainly something magical about having a visit from a Christmas donkey.
We are very lucky to have Willow and Juniper who are two of the most wonderful miniature donkeys and they both love doing this type of work. They have been helping us for many years now and know exactly what is expected of them and what they expect in return from all the residents they meet; lots of scratches and attention.
The demand for visits means that the workload is too much for just Willow and Juniper, so Slade House Farm kindly allowed us to borrow some of their miniature donkeys to receive training and help cover the visits. One little donkey in particular called William has proven to be an absolute star this Christmas.
When we first started taking William out he was a little unsure of what to do. Being inside a nursing home is a completely unnatural environment for a donkey. There are so many unusual sights, sounds and smells to deal with, plus lots of people walking around with walking frames, sitting in chairs or lying in beds. Williams’s natural curiosity and sociable nature then took over and his confidence has grown so much; he just loves interacting with the residents.
This couldn’t have been highlighted more clearly than just before Christmas when we visited a residential home in Taunton, Devon where we met people suffering with mental health problems. William decided he was taking charge of the visit and led me down the corridors and into residents' rooms. He then placed his head on their pillows and waited for a fuss.
Towards the end of the visit I was stood holding William in a large room where a man was seated in the far corner all on his own. William took it upon himself to pay this man a visit and went and placed his head in the man’s lap. I had wrongly assumed that the man was asleep or not interested in seeing the donkey but as I drew closer I could see tears rolling down his cheek as he lovingly stroked William’s face. The man could not have been happier.
The intuition of donkeys never ceases to amaze me. I have been carrying out Outreach visits for many years. Moments like this are always so special and seeing the joy that donkeys bring to people, as well as the enrichment that this can bring to the donkeys, never ever tires.