With two days to go until Christmas, 17-year-old donkey Mary and her daughter Della needed a festive miracle.

In 2019, a member of the public, concerned for Mary and Della’s welfare, alerted us to their plight on a smallholding a short distance from Carlisle. Our Donkey Welfare Advisers investigated and found them in a sorry state of health, shut in a squalid stable strewn with faeces and thick mud, with no access to the fields outside.

Hannah Bryer, our Head of Welfare, says: “Mary was in extreme pain. Her feet were overgrown and she had chronic changes to the normal structure of one of her hooves. This meant she found it incredibly uncomfortable just when standing still and found it very difficult to walk.

“Both Mary and Della needed urgent farrier attention. Their coats were matted and sodden with their excrement, which required days of grooming, bathing and clipping to address.”

During the rescue, Mary and Della's owner arrived. With the support of the vet on site, our team explained their concerns for Mary's long-term welfare and helped the owner realise the impact his lack of care was having on the donkeys' wellbeing.

As a result, Mary and Della officially passed into our care so we could make the most appropriate decisions for their future care.

We were able to swiftly provide Della and mum Mary with a safe, warm barn for Christmas where they received attention from a specialist vet and farrier to ease their suffering. Our Donkey Welfare Advisers Sally Bamforth and Adele Crompton began the process of removing their matted fur, gently removing the larger clumps from their coat before moving on to the smaller, tightly knitted ones.

Sally says: “We did as much as we could by hand to make it less stressful for them. As such, we had to extend the clipping and bathing over three days. It also would have been very painful to remove the matted coat in one go.”

Despite the expert attention provided to Mary, the extent of the damage to her feet meant she needed acrylic shoes. The shoes help Mary feel comfortable and balanced on all four feet, and allow her to walk comfortably.

Despite the neglect the two donkeys had faced, both were very accepting of the treatment they received at the holding base and their warm and loving personalities began to shine.

The extent of the damage done to her feet means she is not able to travel to any of our sanctuary sites, but is instead at a long-term holding base where she and Della receive the best care.

Their characters are now really coming to the fore and both are very friendly donkeys. Della has transformed into an inquisitive donkey and Mary has come out of her shell thanks to the daily attention she receives.

Could you help a donkey this Christmas?