A pair of starving donkeys who were so thin that their skeletal frames were visible under their matted, lice-infested coats are enjoying better lives in their new Guardian home this Christmas.

Santa, Noel and Santa's mum at the holding base

Santa, Noel and Santa's mum at the holding base

We responded to a call for help regarding donkeys Santa and Noel in December 2019, after their owner contacted our welfare team for assistance. On arrival, Hannah Bryer, our Head of Welfare, found the donkeys in poor condition and needing urgent specialist care.

Santa, a six-month-old foal, was extremely underweight. His frame's bony and prominent outline was visible despite his thick coat. His neck, spine and hips were protruding; such was the lack of fat and muscle on his body. Santa was living with his mum and one-year-old Noel. Noel's condition was also very poor.

Our team could easily feel his bones due to the lack of fat and muscle cover on his body. His coat was also matted, with patches of hair loss and sore skin caused by him rubbing to try and alleviate the discomfort of a lice infestation.

Hannah says: "Santa was very quiet and uninterested in his surroundings. Our team's immediate concern was that behaviour changes are often signs of serious ill-health.

"Although Santa was still with his mum, she was also very thin and had not been able to produce enough milk to feed him.

"Santa's coat was matted and infested with lice. He had several areas of hair loss and sore skin, likely caused by constant scratching in an attempt to alleviate the itchiness of lice."

Both donkeys lived in a dirty, wet stable, which had damaged their hooves and caused an infection called thrush, which affects the underside of the foot.

Noel's hooves were long and chipped, and he had a condition called white line disease, which affects the inner layers of the hoof wall. Santa also suffered from dermatitis around the top of his hooves and fetlock joints.

We worked with their owner, who agreed for Santa and Noel to move to a local emergency holding base where we could provide them with the treatment and care needed to support their recovery.

At the holding base, the pair received all the veterinary treatment and farrier care they needed to support their return to health.

Hannah adds: "Due to their very poor condition, we had to be careful not to overwhelm their digestive system, which can cause further health issues – so we worked with our nutritionist to devise a bespoke feeding plan.

"When Santa was old enough to be weaned from his mum, we were able to achieve this by gradually increasing the time they spent apart from each other.

"Santa already had a good bond and friendship with Noel, so this was a relatively easy process."

During their time at the holding base, Santa and Noel became more confident around people and were soon good to lead, catch and groom.

They were quick to learn and, with a bit of practice, they were calm and relaxed for vet and farrier visits. Santa and Noel are inquisitive and active donkeys who thrive on one-to-one attention.

Hannah says: "We knew that they would enjoy living as part of a family, so our Rehoming Scheme is a fantastic option for them.

"Once their health had improved, our vets considered their suitability for the scheme, advising of any individual care needs so we could match them to the right home."

The big day came for Santa and Noel on 13 November 2020, when they arrived at the home of their new Donkey Guardian family in Preston, Lancashire.

Kathryn Rackham and her husband welcomed the duo to their working farm in nearby Chorley after meeting the donkeys over a video call due to the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since arriving with Kathryn, Santa and Noel have come on leaps and bounds.

Donkey Welfare Adviser Keira Benham says: "They are the friendliest donkeys I have ever met, considering they are such a young pair at two-years-old each. They are such well-rounded, attentive boys.

"Santa is a lively chap, and Noel is very calm and present but still very interactive with his donkey pal and humans.

"They are fabulous donkeys to be around, and I am so pleased that they have come on so well with Kathryn."

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