Welfare Adviser Tamlin Watson describes the dramatic rescue of a tiny donkey.
Cold, damp, miserable. Three adjectives that perfectly describe the day we were called in to help the plight of a small stallion donkey and some other equines.
One of our donkey welfare advisers Tamlin Watson arrived at the site and looked out on rolling fields. There was just mud as far as the eye could see. No longer any grass, just churned up mud.
Loose strands of barbed wire pretended to be a boundary among the rusting heaps of metal, rubbish and debris that constituted the squalor that these animals were forced to live in. The animals were too dejected to try to break free, too broken to see that their escape was only barred by a few tenuous strands of wire.
Nine horses were first to the fence, some in reasonable condition but a few had ribs protruding; hips jagged, eyes dull and lifeless. Greedily grabbing anything offered and jostling with the little energy they had left.
Tamlin said: "I could have cried. But then I saw him. Tiny and scared among the larger horses, being pushed and cajoled but unable to access any food. Too small. Too scared. We managed to get him closer to a gate so I could get my hands on him. His fluffy winter coat lied; when my hands touched his skin there was only resistance, hard bone. No muscle or fat to keep him warm in this quagmire, no shelter, no love.
"I called for assistance; within the hour the RSPCA and equine specialist vet arrived. There was no dispute. These animals needed to get out of here today, before it was too late. We needed the police to help us access the site to talk to the owner. He arrived in a whirlwind of insults, shouting, screaming, violent, then kicked and punched the donkey until both disappeared out of view. The donkey cut a small, pitiful figure against the angry outbursts.
"The police arrived. We gained access to the site. We removed the horses in need of immediate veterinary care but couldn’t find the donkey. The owner had hidden him. It was getting dark but we all walked the site through welly-deep mud, waving torches in every dark place. He’d gone. We’d have to leave without him. We were heartbroken. The remaining horses were being given hay near the house so for the time being they had to remain. We had to get the most in need to safety.
"Through the weekend we all fretted about the donkey, then a call early Monday morning sent us scurrying back to site. We’d got him, we found the donkey and whisked him away to safety. His hooves sunk into deep bedding, his knees buckled. He slept, he ate. And ate. He got stronger and more mischievous. His personality shone through, and what a character.
"We waited for months for the case to come to court. Anxious that the outcome would keep the equines from returning to that dreadful place, but realistic that the possibility remained that they might. One horse was too emaciated to be saved, the damage too great. Despite valiant efforts, she died.
"Both owners received a six-year ban. No keeping equines. Our rescues were saved. Secure. Their futures were rosy. The donkey stallion had been called Alan, by the attending vet, so that name stuck. He’s now been signed over to us and castrated; he now has many friends, both donkey and human. In addition to that, he has a very, very loud voice for such a small donkey."
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