An anonymous letter received in the post led staff at our Spanish sanctuary, El Refugio del Burrito, to a scene of horror and despair in a small village in Malaga.

The message for help warned of poor living conditions for a number of animals at the location, but staff could never have imagined what they would find upon their arrival.

There were 21 equines, some close to death, living amongst the dead bodies of other animals. They were all without water and crammed into dangerous pens made of rusting metal, sharp objects, wire and plastic, and the floor was thick with excrement.

An overwhelming sadness

The team had to take immediate emergency action, and joined forces with other organisations including the police, Seprona (Animal and Environment Civil Guard), ARCH Horse Rescue Spain and Caballos Luna España, as well as volunteer policeman Joaquin and local vet Juan.

Vet Juan was called to help a donkey who had collapsed and was lying in excrement, barely alive. Despite his and the team’s best efforts, the donkey sadly passed away in their arms.

Vets fight for collapsed donkey's life in Spain
Decomposing equine remains found at Spanish rescue site
Group of donkeys and mules at Spanish rescue site
Vets fought for the collapsed donkey's life amidst the shocking environment, which included over seven other equine carcasses.

Nicky Cohen, senior donkey welfare adviser at El Refugio del Burrito, said: “At first I didn’t feel emotion. I just keep moving quickly to coordinate the services from the police, Seprona, a vet, sanctuary staff, horse rescue charities and transport, in order to get help to the animals as quickly as possible.

“Then, suddenly, when I was standing with the vet putting the donkey to sleep, everything hit me at once. The dead bodies, the sadness of it all, the horror… and I felt completely sick and unable to contain a few tears.”

From terror to tranquillity

The Spanish sanctuary were able to remove 12 equines, which included six donkeys and six mules, while the other organisations helped to rescue the remaining horses at the site.

On arrival into the sanctuary, the rescued donkeys and mules were given a clean, well-bedded stable to rest in, fresh water and plenty of quality food.

Once settled, our vets gave them all a thorough health check to evaluate their condition. Many were found to have skin problems, which was likely a result of a poor diet and from living in such unhygienic conditions. Their hooves needed attention from a farrier, and all were suffering from malnutrition.

Two of the donkeys were in such a severe state of ill health that vets made the tough decision to put them to sleep and alleviate their suffering.

Thanks to the dedication of staff at El Refugio del Burrito, the 10 surviving animals have been recovering well. While their physical conditions are improving, they will still need lots of extra care to overcome the mental trauma caused by their ordeal. They are terrified of people, and staff are working with patience and compassion to gain their trust and to help improve their confidence.

The donkeys have been named Ceres, Artemisa, Minerva and Perséfone, and the mules are Hades, Polifemo, Gea, Hestia, Galatea and Medusa, all after classical gods and goddesses.

A new chapter – and a new addition

Unbeknownst to the rescue team at the time, one of the group managed to survive the ordeal while pregnant. Artemisa gave birth to a healthy colt, Zeus, just last month. The Donkey Sanctuary’s CEO, Mike Baker, was lucky enough to meet the foal born against the odds on a recent visit to El Refugio del Burrito.

It is thanks to our Spanish team, the anonymous member of the public, our supporters, and the organisations with which we joined forces, that we managed to rescue not just ten, but eleven donkeys and mules from their horrendous conditions. Luckily, little Zeus has been born into a world of sanctuary and not suffering.

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