Dylan was found by his previous owners alone at a fair with not another donkey in sight. Now, he has a bright future ahead of him with his new band of buddies at The Donkey Sanctuary Ireland.
5 year old Dylan is a bright and confident chap - sadly, though, his inquisitive nature conceals his difficult start to life.
Dylan's previous owners felt pity for him after spotting him wondering alone at a fair they were visiting in Ireland. With no other animals in sight - let alone another donkey - they left the fair with Dylan in tow.
What his newfound owners didn't realise, though, is that donkeys should not be kept in isolation. Although they were able to give him plenty of one-to-one attention, they knew something wasn't right when his behaviour started to become more unmanageable. Wanting to put Dylan's best interests first, the family got in touch with The Donkey Sanctuary Ireland to secure him a happier future.
Why donkeys need each other as much as they need us
Cathy Griffin, Senior Welfare Adviser at The Donkey Sanctuary Ireland, has seen many cases of isolated donkeys over her career.
"The issue with a solitary donkey is that donkeys are herd animals. Donkeys kept alone suffer varying degrees of stress including from depression, lack of appetite, poor health and behavioural issues." she says.
These behavioural issues are often misunderstood as aggression - rather, they are more likely an expression of loneliness. Due to a donkey's innate tendency to bond, an isolated donkey is likely to form a dependency on their human caretaker. This leads to over-excitement and boisterousness in the presence of humans, and distressed, defensive behaviour when they leave.
"Sadly it is a common problem we see in Ireland. Because donkeys will often mask their suffering an owner can assume the donkey is fine alone."
A fresh start
Managing Dylan's behaviour
Dylan's previous owners had tried their best to manage his behaviour, but had used treats as a means of ensuring his cooperation. This meant that he could display dominance at times, and crucially, he had yet to learn proper behaviour from other donkeys. Eugene Butler, who has been handling Dylan since his arrival, recalls his initial observations of the young donkey:
“I met Dylan after his owners reached out to us for help. Dylan was used to having lots of treats and he lived as a solitary animal. I knew he would benefit from living within a herd of donkeys where he would learn behaviour that can only come from living amongst other donkeys.”
With lots of patience, understanding and dedication, the team managed to bond with Dylan without the use of treats as an incentive. Short walks in hand, and plenty of affection enabled Dylan to build his trust in his handlers, not least Eugene - as you can see in the video below.
Dylan settles at Kanturk Farm
Finally, Dylan has found himself some four-legged friends
Dylan is truly thriving in his new home with The Donkey Sanctuary at Kanturk Farm, Co. Cork.
Although he has yet to form a bonded pairing with another donkey, he enjoys spending time with donkey duo Colm and Carrik. His grooms have loved seeing his transformation from reticent and reserved to playful and affectionate with his new friends, and can often be seen engaging in mutual grooming with the pair.
Naturally, Dylan still largely finds comfort in his handlers as he learns what it truly means to be a donkey - not that his grooms mind too much, given his affable character.
"Dylan is a very outgoing donkey," says Claire Heffernan, Kanturk Farm Supervisor. "He enjoys the company of staff more than donkeys and also helps the staff grooming by playfully taking everything out of the grooming kit!"
One added perk from Dylan's trust in his handlers has been the progress he has made with the farrier. With encouragement from his human friends, Dylan no longer needs to be sedated for farrier visits, and will now stand patiently to have his feet picked up rather than kick out - he he demonstrates perfectly in the video below.
"In the morning, Dylan is the first donkey up to the staff for a cuddle or a rub," continues Claire. "He also enjoys kicking the football round the yard - the staff are all very fond of him."
A bright future
Now Dylan is learning how to be a donkey again, his future is bright.
Thanks to the work of The Donkey Sanctuary Ireland, Dylan can look forward to a long and fulfilled life. If his progress continues at its current rate, he could even be placed on our rehoming scheme with an experienced Donkey Guardian.
Senior Welfare Adviser Cathy sums it up best: "A single donkey may well learn to cope and survive, but he will not thrive. At the end of the day it’s all about having a life worth living. We all need a friend."
Luckily, Dylan not only has new friends; he has a whole new family.