Daisy and Buttercup’s owner reached out to The Donkey Sanctuary for help with her donkeys’ behaviour as it was preventing her from getting their feet properly and regularly treated.

When our welfare adviser arrived, the owner asked us to take them in straight away. When we saw the state of the donkeys’ hooves, it was clear that the donkeys had passed the point of some gentle behaviour training and they needed to come to the sanctuary right away for urgent farriery work.

“Please can you just take them?” That was the plea from one Devon donkey owner who had let her donkeys’ feet grow so long, she knew she needed to turn to The Donkey Sanctuary for help.

Space is at a premium at the sanctuary and, where possible, our welfare team endeavours to offer training and advice to owners, equipping them with the tools and knowledge to keep their donkeys happy and healthy in their homes.

But for the owner of Daisy and her three-year-old daughter Buttercup, it was too late. She had reached the end of her tether with the apparent behavioural problems which prevented her from getting near to the donkeys to pick out their hooves.

Daisy’s hooves in particular were so long that when a member of our welfare team visited, she knew that this animal needed urgent veterinary and farriery treatment, and that thanks to the charity’s supporters, she knew we would have the facilities and staff to give them just that.

Our donkey welfare adviser for North Devon and Cornwall, Jenna Goldby, explained: “On arrival, one of the first things the owner said to me was ‘please can you just take them?’ I explained that I thought she wanted some help with training the donkeys, but she said she had tried so hard for so long that she felt she was now failing them.

“I went to see the donkeys and was shocked to see how long Daisy’s feet were – I agreed there and then that we would take them in.”

Donkeys Buttercup and Daisy peering around a barn door
Donkey with very over grown hooves
Over grown donkey hooves

The wheels were set in motion and plans were put in place to get the mother and daughter duo into the sanctuary, including paperwork, rescue lorry, accommodation, vet clinic, assessments, and organising immediate pain relief for Daisy.

Whilst Buttercup was the more forthcoming and friendly of the two, shadowing Jenna and ‘helping’ her along, Daisy was much more nervous. With patience, Jenna was able to approach her, stroke her face and offer up some crunchy carrot, but she remained tense and wary.

Jenna added: “Daisy was a big concern for me – although she was moving well and showing no signs of lameness, I was very aware that she would have a long, difficult journey ahead of her – not only in learning to eventually live with newly-trimmed feet and the discomfort this can cause as the tendons and ligaments readjust, but also behaviourally – she was so nervous I knew that she was going to need a lot of human intervention to help her on the road to recovery.”

Since their arrival in the sanctuary’s isolated New Arrivals Unit, our dedicated grooms have been spending lots of time with Daisy to build her confidence, and she is slowly learning to trust people.

She also suffered from a sore eye which could have set the behaviour work back drastically, as the grooms are having to apply daily drops, but she is getting braver by the day.

High stress can cause serious health problems in donkeys, so the team had to make a call as to the right time to trim the donkeys’ feet. After a couple of sessions with Ben Hart our resident donkey and human behaviour expert, it was felt the mares had made enough progress to be sedated and for their long hooves to be trimmed.

There is still a lot of work to be done for this recovering pair, but they are both young and they have their close bond to bring them through the process.

Jenna said: “If were not able to be there for these donkeys, Daisy’s feet would have grown to a critical point where she would have struggled to walk and would have been in a lot of pain. The owner had discussed getting her put to sleep - if The Donkey Sanctuary wasn’t there to intervene, I feel that eventually Daisy would have reached a point where she was in so much pain she couldn’t move, and at that point she would have been euthanized.

“Daisy’s owner tried her best to rectify the situation, but we want owners to know that we are here and we can be called at the earliest opportunity to offer advice and help them learn so that donkeys can receive the proper care while staying at home.”

Update: Daisy and Buttercup find a friend in Ann

Ann and her husband Frank first came to visit The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth about 30 years ago, and since spent many years volunteering at The Donkey Sanctuary in Cyprus. At Donkey Week 2019, the year following their rescue, Ann made a big impact on Daisy and Buttercup.

Ann and Frank enjoyed meeting the pair at Axnoller Farm in Dorset, which isn’t usually open to the public. Donkey Week attendees are able to enjoy an exclusive tour of the farm and an opportunity to meet the resident herds of donkeys and mules.

Groom Lauren Middleton said: “We’ve introduced the pair into a herd of elderly donkeys – I think they give off calming vibes and have really helped these younger two relax and settle in! They’ve even found a new friend in Grace, a 24-year-old donkey, so the pair have now become a trio.

“Daisy is quite alert and aware, and Buttercup is more interested in things, but they are both getting much braver and more confident."

Daisy, Buttercup and Grace at Axnoller
Daisy, Buttercup and Grace
Full size

While supervised by staff, Donkey Week attendees were allowed to spend time with the group of donkeys. Their grooms thought that these interactions would be a key step in Daisy and Buttercup’s recovery.

Initially the pair were quite shy and chose to move away from people - but after watching the other donkeys enjoying scratches and attention, they began to look intrigued. With their friend Grace by their side, Daisy and Buttercup moved closer and eventually allowed Ann to approach them.

Ann was calm and gentle, and understanding of how nervous the donkeys were, which really helped the pair to feel confident enough to interact. Curious young Buttercup seemed to benefit the most, prompting laughter as she tried to nibble at a poppy logo on Ann’s jumper.

This was a big step for the young donkeys, and their grooms were thrilled to see them enjoying their new-found confidence.

Ann and Buttercup at Donkey Week, Axnoller
Ann and Buttercup
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