I love my job, I love meeting so many people and their donkeys and am always bowled over by the relationship some owners have with their donkeys. But sometimes there are visits which are sad and emotional when owners contact me and ask me what they should do because their beloved donkey is not him/her self any more.
Donkeys are by nature very stoical and do not always present or display any obvious signs that all is not well. A dull and depressed donkey is a medical emergency as is loss of appetite. Sometimes the changes are so subtle; a change in behaviour or a reluctance to graze or mooch around the paddock can be enough to alert you to something that may be seriously wrong.
In the past couple of weeks I have visited two homes who have had to come to terms with making the hardest call of all. Their donkeys were no longer enjoying a good quality of life.
My first visit was to a home where the vet had been called the day before to examine her donkey and the prognosis was not good. This was a Saturday morning and the owner had hoped that the weekend would show an improvement in her donkey’s behaviour. When I arrived it was clear that Rupert was failing fast. He had lost his sight, was very disorientated and had stopped eating. His owner knew it was time to make that call to the vet but asked me if I would ring the vet and stay with Rupert while he was gently put to sleep. As much as she loved her donkey, this was one call too hard for her to make. Of course, I did this without hesitation but not without a tear in my eye too. Rupert has left behind a friend Dougal, and the care of him was paramount as he too is old and there is always a risk of hyperlipaemia when a donkey is grieving for his friend.
I am relieved to say that Dougal is coping on his own and at 33 years old sometimes the stress of introducing a new friend can be too much so we agreed to see how he fares on his own. His owner spends many hours a day with him in his field and he has the company of neighbouring horses.
Last week, I called in to see another wonderful home who had great concerns about his old donkey. He had noticed subtle changes in his behaviour. He no longer rolled, he wandered aimlessly around his paddock and had started to distance himself from his companion donkey.
I spent some time observing him and noticed that he was reluctant to graze and move around the paddock. I talked about quality of life and asked him to call the vet. The vet diagnosed liver failure and Mark rang me two days later to tell me that he had made the hardest call and his beloved donkey and friend of 27 years was humanely put to sleep. Mark’s call to me was a very emotional one and his words sum up the unique relationship between man and his donkey.
“Blewen was my best friend for every second of his 27 years. My heart is broken “
JJ, Blewen’s friend, is doing well but as a younger donkey, some new friends are being sought to keep her company and I hope it won’t be too long until she has a donkey companion once more.
I feel very privileged that I was able to offer support to these homes and thank them for giving their donkeys the kindest gift, ‘the hardest call to make’.