After months of dedication, team work and expert care, staff at our specialist donkey hospital have managed to save the life of Snowdrop, a rescue donkey with a gruesome and painful mass hanging from her eye.

In 2018, our Welfare team received a call from a concerned member of the public in West Yorkshire about a donkey with a painful looking growth on its face.

Thankfully, Donkey Welfare Adviser Charly Wain was on hand to investigate. When she located the donkey, Snowdrop, and her friend Marble, she could immediately see why the caller was so concerned. Snowdrop had a large, bloody mass growing from just above her right eye, which looked sore and was obstructing her vision.

In addition to Snowdrop’s instantly concerning growth, both donkeys were also worryingly overweight – making them more at risk of developing other health conditions, including the life-threatening hyperlipaemia.

Charly said: “I was able to speak to their owner, and explained just how concerning Snowdrop’s condition was. They told me that seven-year-old Snowdrop had been diagnosed and treated for sarcoids (a form of skin cancer) in the past.

“This particular mass was already bleeding and causing her discomfort, and there was also a chance that the growth was already so advanced that it could be fatal for Snowdrop. I felt that we couldn’t leave her to suffer any longer, and told them that they needed to make a decision about her future immediately."

State of the art facilities for a high-risk treatment

Snowdrop, along with her buddy Marble, arrived into our care in November 2018 after their owner agreed to relinquish them. Our team were prepared with the knowledge that she would have a long and uncertain road ahead of her if they were to treat her sarcoid successfully.

Veterinary Surgeon and Head of Clinical Services Luke Poore and Veterinary Surgeon Elena De Barrio were responsible for Snowdrop’s sarcoid treatment.

“Snowdrop was an exceptionally challenging case,” says Luke. “She had a pedunculated (on a stalk) sarcoid, which was very aggressive, active and in a particularly difficult place to treat.

“We carried out resection with a specialist laser to remove the majority of the tumour, followed by a series of chemotherapy injections over the course of several months to kill the cells at the base of the site.”

There was no guarantee that the treatments would work for Snowdrop. Her condition was particularly severe, and the treatment plan was long and necessarily invasive.

Not only was Snowdrop’s life at risk, but Marble’s too. Given the pair of them were overweight at the time of their rescue, Marble would be predisposed developing stress-related - and potentially life-threatening - hyperlipaemia if she were to lose her friend.

If the sarcoid had been caught earlier on, Snowdrop would not only have had a much better chance of survival, but she wouldn’t have had to go through such invasive treatments – meaning the odds for both donkeys’ survival would have been far more positive.

Luke added: “There is no excuse for a donkey having a tumour of this size and complexity, there are so many resources and help available to donkey owners, it should never happen.”

Sarcoid success for Snowdrop

Thanks to the incredible diligence and skill of our veterinary team, Snowdrop’s treatment has been successful. The tumour has been managed, she is no longer in pain, and her future is looking very promising.

Snowdrop and Marble were able to move into a paddock with another group of donkeys, and grooms were thrilled to see that their previously untrusting and therefore sometimes challenging behaviour changed overnight.

Eleanor Westall, New Arrivals Groom, was one of the team who helped to look after Snowdrop and Marble during their first few months in our care – she has seen their transformation first hand.

“Snowdrop seems much more secure now that she’s one of the group,” she said. “She’s even starting to come over to us for cuddles."

Snowdrop and Marble with groom Eleanor
Snowdrop
Snowdrop's sarcoid site
Thanks to our team's efforts, grooms like Eleanor have seen the incredible change in Snowdrop's physical and behavioural condition.

“The Veterinary team reinforced many times that Snowdrop’s treatments may not work and to be prepared. We desperately wanted her to be one of the successes, after everything she’s been through.

“We’re all so relieved that Snowdrop’s doing well, and that we’ve been able to give her another chance.”

Although Snowdrop is free from sarcoids now, there is always a chance that they could reoccur. Grooms and Vets will carry out regular checks to ensure she is fit and healthy, and any unusual lumps or bumps are investigated at the earliest stage.

Thanks to your support, we are able to provide the highest standard of veterinary care to donkeys in need. This, for donkeys like Snowdrop and Marble, gives them the chance to live out the rest of their days in the comfort of the sanctuary. The inexcusable condition in which we found the pair is now just a memory, and they can look forward to a future of grazing pasture with their friends.

You can help donkeys in need get the care they deserve.