Rupert and Toby, who were discovered living in a dirty pen with painfully twisted hooves, are now enjoying new lives at their Guardian home.

The rescue

Rupert, a grey-brown stallion, and Toby, a grey-brown and white stallion, were living together in a dirty pen at a property in the village of Gomersal, West Yorkshire in 2016. Both donkeys were in a pitiful state and had been suffering from neglect for a long time. 

An investigation involving The Donkey Sanctuary, World Horse Welfare, the RSPCA, Bransby Horses and the West Yorkshire Police discovered the suffering donkeys.

The joint operation rescued Rupert and Toby from the same site as another donkey pair who you may remember, called Timmy and Tommy. Their story broke our supporters' hearts as we revealed the horrific conditions they were living in. 

When Hannah Bryer, our Head of Welfare, investigated the property, the owner met her at the entrance. He was both reluctant to let us visit or confirm how many animals he had on his property.

When Hannah heard the distant bray of donkeys, the true horrors on the site presented themselves.

Rupert and Toby's coats were in poor condition with areas of hair loss and matting. Their hooves were severely overgrown and twisted, causing pain and discomfort. Both donkeys were lame and unable to stand or walk normally due to their hooves' distorted shape. 

Rupert was wasting away, his skeleton poking through his grimy coat. His spine and hips were prominent, and he had generalised muscle wastage all over his body. Toby was also underweight with little fat and had started to lose muscle across his hindquarters. 

Hannah says: "On first seeing Rupert and Toby, it was immediately obvious that they needed specialist care if they stood any chance of recovery.

"Rupert and Toby were very quiet and not particularly interested in what was going on around them. Donkeys are naturally inquisitive, so any change in this behaviour indicates that something is wrong. Both donkeys had difficulty walking, and it was obvious they were experiencing significant pain. We needed to act quickly to find local solutions as travelling them too far could cause further health issues and increase the risk of hyperlipaemia." 

A new start

When Rupert and Toby were rescued, they were not fit enough to make the journey to our sanctuary. They were taken to an emergency holding base in Yorkshire where the vets, farriers and grooms could begin the process of healing and nurturing. 

Following many months of loving care and rehabilitation, the donkeys' health slowly improved, and they were eventually well enough to travel to our sanctuary in Devon.

In the years that followed their characters began to shine through. Our grooms noticed Rupert and Toby had very gentle temperaments, making them ideal candidates for our Rehoming Scheme, so we put the pair forward.

In 2020, Rupert and Toby became ready for rehoming, and the pair left the sanctuary to join a new home with one of our Donkey Guardians.

A new home

During one of her supportive visits to see how Toby and Rupert were settling in, Donkey Welfare Adviser Sophie Foster was asked by their Donkey Guardians if she could suggest an activity that would give Toby more stimulation.

Sophie explains: "We keep in close contact with all our Guardians, and after hearing that they felt Toby would benefit from more interaction, whereas Rupert seemed happy and content, we put our heads together to see if we could come up with some ideas. This led to discussing setting up an agility course for him, which his owners duly did. 

"We were amazed to see the transformation this made. Toby seems to enjoy his new activity and has taken to it like a pro. He spends much of time freely running around his paddock, leaping over the low obstacles set up for him. 

"Rupert is yet to join in and seems content to watch, occasionally lifting his head from his grazing just to see what's going on."

Donkey Guardians play a vital role in our work, providing dedicated care in a home environment and freeing up space on our farms for donkeys in need of specialist attention.

With more than 1,400 donkeys and mules on the rehoming scheme, our team of Welfare Advisers support our Donkey Guardians and are on hand to offer advice and help whenever it is needed. 

Sophie adds: "It's so lovely to see that Rupert and Toby have now settled into their new safe forever home. As well as being best friends, the pair also adore the family's young children. Rupert has taken to the younger son who spends a great deal of time with him, while Toby seems to have built a relationship of mutual trust with their daughter. 

"After suffering so much pain and neglect in their life, it is so humbling to see they have now become part of their new family." 

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