On Friday morning one of our welfare officers received a call to say that a donkey called Heidi had gone missing.
Shelagh Steel and Sue Field, two of our welfare officers for the East of England, have known Heidi and her three donkey friends - Poppy, Hazel and Harry - for a number of years. Part of their role as welfare officers is to get to know all the donkeys and owners in their area.
A few weeks ago, while on a routine welfare visit, the owner of the four donkeys had reluctantly decided that she could no longer look after them because of her own ill-health and asked that they be taken into the Sanctuary's care.
We always like to give owners time to come to terms with their decision, so Sue arranged to go back the following week to go through the formalities and arrange for all the donkeys to be checked to make sure they were fit to travel down to Devon.
Unfortunately Heidi's owner was taken into hospital unexpectedly so Shelagh and Sue made arrangements for the donkeys to travel as soon as possible while a friend of the owner looked after them.
Little did Sue know when she answered the phone on Friday morning how the day was about to unfold.
Heidi was missing
Shelagh and Sue went hunting for Heidi, each taking a section of ground to search. When they got back to the stables at around 6.30 pm they were surprised to find a very worried owner by the gate having discharged herself from hospital on hearing the news that one of her much loved donkeys had gone missing.
Everyone involved were becoming anxious about Heidi's well-being and safety. Away from her donkey friends, frail herself with old age, and not being able to see very well, Heidi was likely to be extremely frightened and in danger.
At 8pm the news everyone had waited for came when a passer-by spotted Heidi in a ditch alongside a road in the Corringham area and called the emergency services.
As soon as they heard the news, Shelagh and Sue made their way to where Heidi had been spotted and found the road already closed by the police while three fire crews worked to rescue Heidi from the ditch.
By this time, Heidi was very cold and in shock. In such a condition, donkeys are susceptible to a life threatening condition called Hyperlipaemia, so the priority was to make her safe and warm.
Shelagh was impressed by the determination and dedication of the fire crews as they worked to save Heidi's life.
Heidi was wrapped in a foil blanket to try and conserve what body heat she had while she was lifted out of the ditch and transferred onto an inflatable bed that the fire crews had waiting for her.
While the rescue teams were working to get Heidi out of the ditch, Shelagh and Sue worked to arrange transport to take Heidi to Taylor & Lees veterinary hospital at Catley Cross.
After two hours of hard work the fire crews got Heidi out of the ditch, gently carried her to the waiting horse box and she was on her way to hospital for expert medical care. Shelagh and Sue went ahead to Taylor & Lees and met Carolyn (vet) and Hayley (nurse) ready and waiting with 10 hot water bottles to put around Heidi when she arrived.
Both Carolyn and Hayley stayed with Heidi all night massaging her with towels to help warm her while 3 heat lamps burned through the night adding extra warmth.
Shelagh found it a touching moment when she looked over at Heidi and saw that Carolyn and Hayley had also put a couple of pairs of socks on Heidi's feet to keep them warm.
Comforted to the very end
On Saturday morning Shelagh called the vets for news on Heidi and was relieved to hear that Heidi was holding her own but not out of the woods yet. She had had a little to eat during the night but there was still a long way to go.
Throughout the day the staff at the veterinary centre had been with Heidi. A lovely lady called Bridget, who's own donkey was receiving medical care, spent the afternoon sitting with Heidi coaxing her to eat little and often and signs were looking good.
But how quickly things can change. Carolyn called Shelagh in the early hours of Sunday morning to say we had lost Heidi to pneumonia.
Heidi touched the hearts of many, and everyone involved in her rescue are devastated and did everything possible to save her. Heidi was not alone when she died and was comforted to the very end.
This operation couldn't have happened without the help of many people and we'd like to thank all those who searched for Heidi throughout the day.
All the emergency services involved for acting so quickly in response to a call for help.
Special thanks to the Corringham and South Woodham Ferrers fire station crews who worked tirelessly and with such passion to pull Heidi out of the ditch.
The vet at the scene was Louise Smith from House & Jackson who was just great.
Sue Rivers who came to our rescue by providing a horse box at the drop of a hat.