You may have read the sad news about our gorgeous, feisty little donkey, Gareth, recently. You may even recall when we had to let you know that our fabulously handsome gentleman donkey, Teddy, had been put to sleep.
The response to the news in both cases has been extraordinary and shows how much you all care for the donkeys that you know (and, to know is to love) and may have been to visit.
Gareth and Teddy were high profile donkeys here – world famous thanks to the power of the internet. However, we have around 2,600 donkeys living with us on our farms in Devon and Dorset - less famous but equally important - and I wanted to let you know a bit about one of the most important parts of the work done by our amazing donkey care team on a day to day basis. Life and death decisions which were epitomised in the cases of Gareth and Teddy.
The day-to-day work of our team of vets is treating common ailments such as an eye infection or a foot abscess, or even surgery to remove skin tumours. This is the easy stuff.
However, inevitably our donkeys age and, sadly, some become seriously ill. This is where our thoughts turn to the all important quality of life. Our grooms know every donkey they look after so well that they are quick to spot a subtle decline in the health or happiness of individual donkeys under their care.
Each of our vets are responsible for a farm and we are called in to give the donkey a thorough health check and try to find out what is wrong. We may diagnose a degenerative condition such as arthritis or a failing liver. Treatment is instituted and we are always over the moon if it seems to work.
But we are already on the alert and keep an extra watchful eye on the donkey even to the extent of keeping a diary record of his or her progress. Despite treatment, is the donkey lying down more or lying down less? Is he or she no longer interacting with their friends, are they less interested in their food?
We get together and discuss the donkey in depth – are there more bad days than good? Is there anything else we can offer in the way of treatment?
It is at this stage that we will decide if euthanasia is the best option in the welfare interests of the donkey.
If we cannot restore health and happiness to that donkey then the last and best thing we can do is to euthanise. This decision is never taken lightly and does not get easier but we are confident that we make the decision at the right time and I consider euthanasia to be one of the best welfare tools in the vet’s toolbox.
Euthanasia here is a peaceful, loving process with the donkey surrounded by their donkey and people friends being fed whatever they love to eat (usually ginger biscuits) and they are not usually even aware of the small needle going in to inject an overdose of anaesthetic.
And that is it – a quick, painless end of a life that was no longer as good as it should be. And that is when we can let our emotions get the better of us for a short while before we have to get on with the day job of caring for all the other donkeys who depend upon us for their health and happiness.
For your support, both in terms of lovely messages and donations, I thank you and, of course, it’s a simple fact that the more money we can raise, the more donkeys we can help.
There are believed to be around 43 million donkeys worldwide and we will not rest until all those donkeys live the sort of good life they deserve.
A guide for owners
The Donkey Sanctuary has produced this video to guide owners through the process of observing their ageing donkeys and would advise on keeping a diary of your donkey’s behaviour to help you assess how things are going.