When I first started in my role as manager of the Sidmouth Donkey Assisted Therapy Centre, there were two donkeys who had originally come from a big group in the New Forest and had only been living with the therapy team for a short while, having been specially selected from one of the Donkey Sanctuary farms due to their particularly friendly and sociable natures.
This meant that their potential had been spotted very early on as they had some of the ideal attributes that we look for when choosing donkeys to put forward for a role involving a great deal of human contact.
Meeting Timothy and Walter
Timothy and Walter were half- brothers but their looks and personalities couldn’t have been more different. When I first went to meet the donkeys in the yard, a very handsome grey donkey with a distinct black stripe on his back and a black muzzle came straight over to introduce himself and was soon trying to nuzzle in my pockets to see if I was worth talking to. He then started picking up one of the brooms in his teeth and began helping one of his grooms sweep the yard.
Out of the corner of my eye I could see I was being watched by a fluffy skewbald donkey, who clearly was interested in what was happening but had a very wary look in his eye and didn’t have the confidence to come over straight away. He let me approach him and then relaxed as I gave his neck a nice scratch and he realised there was nothing to worry about.
Walter the teacher
It is amazing knowing how nervous Walter was at that time, how far he has come with the help of some patient and ongoing training and how many lives he has helped enhance during his time engaging with the children and adults who visited the Centre. Walter has always been particularly good with more anxious, nervous children and becoming their teacher, in a way that no-one could to do quite so well. He seems to know just when they need a little extra encouragement or reassurance and soon has them interacting with confidence. I guess this maybe comes from his own experience!
That morning was my first introduction to the notorious ‘Baker brothers’ and when they are not busy enhancing lives, they often find ways to keep themselves occupied and partake in a bit of mischief making. The occasion when Timothy, who is extremely intelligent, mastered how to open (and close!) the lock on the storeroom door and shut one of his grooms in the shed, will always remain in our minds. Luckily a helpful passer- by heard someone knocking on the door and soon alerted us to let her out.
Timothy loves being the centre of attention and has a particular determination to be groomed as much as possible. When he is not picking up the grooming kits in his teeth and trying to help brush himself, he waits until he has been made spotlessly clean and then finds the nearest patch of mud or sand and has a good roll in order for the whole grooming process to begin again. This has even been known to happen when he is almost ready for his first rider and the grooms then frantically have to dust him off and start again. No wonder he is always gleaming!
As well as the bonds they have clearly formed with people, you hear of donkeys forming very close bonds with each other and I have never seen donkeys so closely bonded as Timothy and Walter. Whilst still very much having their own distinct personalities, you will very rarely see one without the other following closely in his footsteps. This does have its advantages, as we have quite a lot of coloured donkeys within our group and when adoption supporters ask which one is Walter, we can always say that lovely white donkey with brown spots on, stood next to a grey one with a black nose!
Timothy and Walter will leave us with many very fond memories from their time as part of our team and we couldn’t think of a better place for them both to enjoy a long and happy retirement as in the heart of the Sanctuary where they can continue to receive the interaction and attention that they so thrive on and deserve.
Lauriel Woodley, Centre Manager, Donkey Assisted Therapy Centre, Sidmouth