Sally, the mule, is now living at our Town Barton Farm, where she is free to relax, play and roam safely in the company of her new friend Pilgrim. Sadly life had not always been this way for Sally.
When I first met her, she was living in what can only be described as squalor, she was stood in thick mud, with no food, water or clean resting area. The environment she roamed in was full of hazards which could have caused her serious injury.
She had developed a winter coat to help her keep warm, but underneath this thick layer of hair she was very thin, lacking muscle and fat coverage of her ribs, spine and hip bones. It was a thoroughly depressing situation.
Like a lot of mules in Great Britain, Sally was a result of indiscriminate breeding between a stallion donkey and pony mare. She was owned by a horse dealer who was overrun with equines, including stallion donkey Fred.
Fred had previously fathered mules after he got into a field of mares. In fact, I have recently found out that one of Sally’s half-brothers was already here at The Donkey Sanctuary after his new owner relinquished him into our care.
After a very frank conversation with their owner about the poor welfare situation these animals were in, it was agreed that Sally and three donkeys (including Fred) would be brought into the care of The Donkey Sanctuary where they would receive the veterinary, farrier and dental care they needed as well as professional assessment of Sally’s behaviour.
Since she was born, Sally had very little handling, and when it was necessary for her to be caught, wormed or have her feet trimmed, the methods used to carry out these tasks were far from positive.
Needless to say, these experiences made Sally very wary of humans. Her mother, a coloured cob pony, was also wary and the pair had not been weaned, so they spent two years avoiding human contact wherever possible, so much so her previous owners nicknamed her Psycho Sally.
The sad truth is that Sally is not a ‘psycho’. Like most animals (including us), Sally does not react well to situations where she feels threatened or unsafe. Her behaviour in these situations can be challenging and careful consideration needs to be given when working with Sally to ensure that she, and her handlers, are kept safe.
The unfortunate reality is that Sally is a product of human error; her breeding, her living environment and the poor experiences she has encountered from a young age will have all played a part in shaping her behaviour. That being said Sally is not a lost cause, it will take time, skill and expertise to work with Sally to build plenty of positive experiences into her daily routine.
Our farm staff will look to establish a relationship of trust where Sally can anticipate the outcome of human contact so it becomes less frightening for her to be around her grooms and those who care for her.
Despite her poor start, in many ways, Sally is one of the lucky ones. Sadly we see mules all too often who are either not planned, or have been bred or acquired with very little knowledge or experience. Many are being managed in ways which compromises their welfare and/or have been exposed to poor handling which leads to the development of coping behaviours which are so ingrained it provides little hope for their future.
These cases are very difficult and need to be professionally assessed on a case by case basis to establish the best option for that individual mule in the long term. Of course, prevention is better than cure, and many of these cases could have been easily prevented by responsible breeding from the outset.
Those who own a donkey stallion, may feel that the one or two offspring produced is not significant to the wider issues caused by indiscriminate breeding but as this story demonstrates, in his young life, Fred, has fathered several mules, none of which were planned and at least two of his offspring have ended up in our care due to their challenging behaviour. I am pleased to say that Fred has now been castrated so his days of being a new father are well and truly behind him.
Thanks to the generosity of our supporters we were able to be there for Sally when she needed help and we will work to give her a future which is so much brighter than her past.