The Donkey Sanctuary was founded in 1969 by Dr Elisabeth Svendsen MBE, who devoted herself to championing and caring for donkeys.
She could never have imagined how the Sanctuary has grown over the years and her legacy has reached thousands of donkeys in need.
'Dr S' pioneered the first donkey-specific hospital 33 years ago, and in the following extract from her book In Defence of Donkeys, she tells the story of Austin, the first donkey patient to use the operating theatre.
As the Sanctuary grew, we were able to afford our own veterinary surgeon and, following three years of hard work and planning, we designed and developed our new hospital, which was opened in 1982.
To make full use of its facilities, our veterinary team was gradually increased to four: a senior veterinary surgeon with great experience, a graduate veterinary surgeon and two RANAs, trained animal nurses.
The hospital was built because the Sanctuary had developed to such an extent that we had taken over 1,500 donkeys into care and donkeys requiring special treatment and operations had to be taken on the long journey to Exeter, as we had not the operating facilities or the staff at the Sanctuary.
The design of the hospital is rather unique. With our vets, I had visited animal hospitals in many parts of the country, and we had taken notes on what we considered were the best features of each unit; we carefully considered how we could incorporate these in a hospital specifically built just for donkeys.
The main aim was, of course, to cut out much of the trauma experienced by animals having to be transported or moved physically from area to area and, with this in mind, we eventually planned our unit. We needed operating facilities, which included an operating theatre and preparation room, an X-ray unit and dark room for developing films, a recovery area and intensive care boxes.
In addition, we needed laboratories so that we could regularly check both blood and dung samples to ensure the donkeys’ health. It was a big project, and finally completed in 1982.
Austin was the very first donkey to use the operating theatre
Down at Paccombe Farm, Austin was having some difficulty in eating, and during one of the routine examinations by the veterinary surgeons, it was found that he had a very large sharp tooth which had grown and was cutting into his bottom jaw, causing pain when eating.
It was decided to extract this difficult tooth and, in fact, Austin was the very first donkey to use the operating theatre.
As Austin and Aubrey was such close friends, it was necessary to give Aubrey a sedative when Austin was given his pre-med jab at 9am, as without an injection, Aubrey would have fretted terribly at their parting.
At 11am both animals were a bit woozy, but even then Aubrey kicked up a fuss when Austin was led out on a head-collar. Austin was taken into a completely padded room, and whilst standing on a special pallet in the middle room, he was given a knock-down drug.
Now soundly asleep on the pallet, Austin was attached to the overhead hoist and lifted up and gently moved to the operating theatre.
The operating table was socially designed so that it can be moved by an electronic device higher or lower to suit the veterinary surgeon.
The tooth was extracted, and the pallet on which Austin was still sleeping soundly was moved down a long corridor with recovery boxes on either side.
It takes several hours for donkeys to recover from an anaesthetic, and they do tend to stagger around rather. However, the padded walls ensure that there is no danger to the donkey in falling over, and the leather-covered pallet, provides a good grip for the hooves.
As soon as Austin was on his feet, the now quieter Aubrey was led in to join him. You would have imagined they had been away from each other for years by the vociferous welcome that Aubrey gave him, and it just proved to us how very close indeed donkey friendships become.