"We love our donkeys so much; what can we do to show our love for them? We want to do more."
For a donkey welfare adviser to be asked this from a Donkey Guardian about their rehomed donkeys is the best question of all.
A hug may be your first response - and yes, they do love a hug and a scratch - but donkeys need so much more than being shown a human form of love.
How about enrichment, stimulation and understanding? These are all key parts to fulfilling a donkey’s life.
Made-Well, in West Devon is a community interest company, providing purposeful and positive opportunities for people with learning disabilities, physical disabilities and mental health diagnosis.
They are caring for three beautiful donkeys called Cassy, Maeve and Niamh who have now been with them for 10 months. In this time they have all grown together in confidence and flourished in the understanding of each other’s needs.
Made-Well plant and nurture their own vegetables and herbs, which is just as well, as donkeys benefit greatly from the use of herbs and spices as a form of sensory enrichment - it is not just taste that can occupy a donkey but also smell.
Our sense of smell is maybe something we all take for granted; to smell a floral scent of a sweet rose or the fresh sea air are my personal favourites, donkeys also love to use this key sense of smell to promote enrichment. Herbs and spices are a perfect way to take them back to their origin of a hot and scented climate.
Before the donkeys enjoy their sensory enrichment they first take part in some physical enrichment. They are taken out on a walk to Made-Well's beautiful herb and veg garden which are all planted in high raise beds - perfect donkey head height for the girls to select their favourite herbs.
After the herbs have been selected and picked they all return to set up the donkeys' Animal Magic enrichment session. The herbs are then scattered on the ground and logs are sprinkled with spices. Cassy, Maeve and Niamh get to reap the benefits from their morning walk by relishing in the array of scent.
Robyn and Emma who run the Animal Magic sessions at Made-Well explains: 'We notice what our donkeys do for our clients every day; they give so much and have amazed us at their seeming understanding of everyone’s challenges. Using the herbs and spices has given us an opportunity to stand back and observe our girls' behaviour, offering a little window into their world, observing them making choices just as we do ourselves.
'The study at the Birmingham sanctuary recently found the donkeys showed each other what they had discovered but our girls were keen to show us humans - hence the paprika covered nose pics! There is a great deal of yawning and rolling which makes for very amusing watching - I’m not sure who enjoys these sessions more, the girls or us.”
Understanding your donkey’s needs is a key part in fulfilling their lives by using innovative ways to nurture physical and sensory enrichment.