At 21 years of age, Venere is the oldest donkey currently being cared for at Il Rifugio Degli Asinelli, the Italian counterpart of the Sidmouth-based Donkey Sanctuary. She was rescued, along with a foal called Holly, from a donkey breeding centre in southern Italy, as both were in terrible condition and needed the Sanctuary's expert care.
Donkey-breeding centres are commonly found in Italy where there is a great demand for their meat. Venere was a donkey used solely to produce foals and it is not known how many years she was 'worked', according to staff at Il Rifugio.
The rescue came about when Il Rifugio and a local animal welfare charity, Nata Libera, heard about a donkey breeding centre in Teramo, which was experiencing financial difficulties. A complaint had been made from a member of public so a small team from the Sanctuary headed out to see if any help was needed.
Barbara Massa, who now runs Il Rifugio, recalls the story when Venere was found in distress: "This poor little donkey was quite elderly and as her feet were so overgrown, she couldn't walk down the hill to get to drinking water at the river. The owners still hoped to continue breeding from her and we literally stayed until they agreed to spare her from any further hardships."
The owners at the breeding centre decided to donate Venere to Il Rifugio (the Sanctuary will not buy donkeys), but they insisted the team take another donkey too. This was a mare foal called Holly, who had a bite wound on her nose which was severely infected.
Before they left, the team made sure they tended to all 22 remaining donkeys; trimming their feet, providing vaccinations and treating them all for parasites.
Venere and Holly were brought back to Il Rifugio's base in Sala Beliese, where permanent Sanctuary is provided to any donkey in need of refuge.
Venere took some time to settle in to sanctuary life as Barbara explains: "Venere was understandably difficult to handle when she first arrived. She used to run for food (even if she was lame) and kicked everyone in who came anywhere near her! She hated having her hooves cleaned.
"But now, she is getting quite soft! She loves being fussed and groomed. She has slowly understood that having her hooves picked out is a pleasure: we just have to touch her leg and she lifts up her hoof. She is doing really well."
The second donkey, Holly, also required a great deal of expert care at the Sanctuary. The bite wound on her nose was so severe that it was affecting her breathing so the vet carried out plastic surgery to correct the form and function of her nose and she has since made a full recovery.
Venere and Holly were the first donkeys to be rescued by Il Rifugio Degli Asinelli in 2005 and are now amongst 73 donkeys currently being cared for by the Sanctuary in Italy.
The intervention at the breeding centre in Teramo was extremely significant as the breeders have since contacted Barbara at Il Rifugio on several occasions for advice, helping to ensure that any donkeys that are worked are healthy and not suffering unnecessarily like Venere and Holly.