Each year, The Donkey Sanctuary marks International Donkey Day by holding a week-long event in celebration of these special animals. At ‘Donkey Week’ this year, we were joined by 290 donkey lovers from around the world.

As well as celebrating donkeys and the work of the charity, Donkey Week has also provided 36 years of fun and friendship for so many likeminded animal lovers since it started in 1983.

Donkey Week 2019 had 290 attendees, with participants coming to Sidmouth from all over the UK, France, Holland and even as far as the USA. For 33 people, it was their very first Donkey Week – these ‘First Yearers’ were in no short supply of friendly faces to bond with over donkeys, though. About 90 of the Donkey Weekers had been coming for over 10 years, some of which have even been in attendance for over 20 years.

We asked Donkey Weekers, returning and new, to tell us the stories that bring them to Donkey Week.

Marilyn Chillingworth and Heather Ellis

Friends Marilyn and Heather both visit the Sidmouth sanctuary every month and attend many of our events, such as Carols by Candlelight and Memorial Day. 

Heather has owned donkeys from a young age, thanks to a childhood Christmas wish coming true. Marilyn wanted to buy Heather a meaningful birthday present one year, so took her to visit The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth to choose an adoption donkey of her own.  

Heather was delighted and picked Vijay. Marilyn adopts Ashley and Zena for herself, and Ruby for her niece and nephew who live in Spain. 

The friends have been attending Donkey Week together for four years now. 

“At Donkey Week, you’re surrounded by likeminded people, all animal lovers,” says Marilyn. 

“Donkeys are such gentle animals, they don’t ask for much and it breaks your heart how they can be treated sometimes.” 

Heather adds: “It’s just a wonderful charity with very dedicated staff. It’s a lovely place to visit, which is great for families, with nice walks, and it’s free. 

“At Donkey Week, you can get close and groom the donkeys, and take them for a walk. It’s just fantastic.”

Marilyn Chillingworth with Oreo at Donkey Week
Marilyn Chillingworth with Oreo
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Nikki Dyball

Nikki first became involved with The Donkey Sanctuary after a friend adopted Timothy for her, and she then adopted Walter in return for her friend. 

Nikki says: “This is my first year, and it’s brilliant. I’ve been to all of the farms, and it’s great being able to meet the donkeys.  

“The talks are really informative – especially for someone who is new to the charity. I found it really interesting to learn about all of the different aspects of The Donkey Sanctuary, it’s been great and I’ve learnt so much about the work, especially the work abroad. 

“I’m amazed there are people here from France and Holland, and the fact people travel so far. I’m also impressed that some people have done 15 or 20 years of Donkey Week! I’ll definitely be back for my second year.  

“I love animals, always have. Donkeys are just like gentle giants, and I’ve fallen in love with them.” 

Nikki Dyball with Jethro at Axnoller, Donkey Week
Nikki Dyball with Jethro at Axnoller Farm
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Anne-Marie Jefferies 

Anne-Marie found out about Donkey Week when visiting the sanctuary in Sidmouth some years ago. 

“I’ve been coming to Donkey Week for four years now. 

“What I like about The Donkey Sanctuary is that they help any donkey that’s in need, and that’s not just in the UK, it’s donkeys everywhere. 

“This week we’ve been doing lots of grooming, donkey walking and cuddling. 

“I don’t know if it’s just one thing that makes me love donkeys so much – I love their fluffy ears, and I just love their personalities, their faces, and when it looks like they are smiling!” 

Janet Leek 

Janet first came to Donkey Week around a decade ago, having previously owned a donkey and pony herself.  

“I started coming when Dr Svendsen was here, but stopped for a while as I had a young family and living in the Midlands meant it was hard to get here – but now I’m back. 

“Of course, coming here means you’ve got that contact with the donkeys, you can walk them, groom them, chat to them, cuddle them. It’s just so chilled, and if you’ve got things on your mind you can just unwind, it’s great. 

“This week I’ve most enjoyed meeting and chatting to the donkeys – they never answer you back! Actually, sometimes yes they do, as they start to bray!”