Christmas is always a very busy time for our Donkey-Assisted Therapy centres and particularly so for the outreach team.
At our Sidmouth sanctuary we increase the amount of visits we make from three days a week to five, for the whole of November and December. Our donkey interaction visits are very popular throughout the year and even more so in the festive season, when there's something magical about being visited by a Christmas donkey.
We are very lucky to have Willow and Juniper who both love doing this type of work. They have been helping us for many years and know exactly what is expected of them and what they expect in return from the residents they meet - namely lots of scratches and attention.
The demand for visits means that the workload is too much for Willow and Juniper alone, so some of our other miniature donkeys have been trained to help cover the visits.
One little donkey in particular called William has proven to be an absolute star.
When we first started taking William out he was a little unsure of what to do. When he visited a nursing home, which is unnatural environment for a donkey, he encountered so many unusual sights, sounds and smells, plus lots of people with walking frames, sitting in chairs or lying in beds.
Williams’s natural curiosity and sociable nature then took over and his confidence began to grow; he now loves interacting with the residents.
This couldn’t have been highlighted more clearly than when we visited a residential home in Taunton, Somerset where we met people suffering with mental health problems.
William decided he was taking charge of the visit and led me down the corridors and into residents' rooms. He then placed his head on their pillows and waited for a fuss.
Towards the end of the visit, William was in a large room where a man was seated in the far corner all on his own. William took it upon himself to pay this man a visit and placed his head in the man’s lap.
We had wrongly assumed that the man was asleep or not interested in seeing the donkey, but as we drew closer we could see tears rolling down his cheek as he lovingly stroked William’s face. The man could not have been happier.
The intuition of donkeys never ceases to amaze. Moments like this are always so special and we'll never tire of seeing the joy that donkeys bring to people, as well as the enrichment it brings to the donkeys.