The Donkey Sanctuary has opened a ‘donkey training school’ to train donkeys as therapy animals for children and adults in response to high demand for the service.
The first five donkeys have been selected from the thousands across the charity’s farms. After months of “basic training” they will “pass out” and be ready to be ridden and groomed by children with additional needs or petted by care home residents. It is a prestigious career suitable for only the very best.
Young recruits Austin, Bart, Mr T, Biscuit and Harry were selected from the thousands of donkeys in the charity’s care because their curiosity and steadiness mark them out as uniquely suited as therapy animals. Larger donkeys are used for riding therapy because they can carry a child while smaller donkeys are used for outreach because they can visit residents’ rooms in care homes.
Their training involves plenty of human handling and exposure to colourful objects and toys and unfamiliar sights and sounds.
Lauriel, manager of basic training at Sidmouth, says: “They’re settling in and getting used to being handled. They’re doing really well and really enjoying it. They’re very friendly and love being with people and learning new things, which is just what we want!
“Austin is particularly brave. He loved the childrens’ toys and he loved his own reflection in the mirror. He’s really good for the others because he gives them confidence. So far its great progress.”
Thorough training and selection is crucial because a therapy donkey will help thousands of children and adults during its career and because the service is expanding said Senior Centre Manager, Bob Venn.
He said: “It’s brilliant we’ve started the training school. We have so much demand for therapy donkeys and so many new projects this year and coming up - and they’ll all need donkeys and they have to be the right donkeys. They have to be sociable and calm and to love being around people. Its really hard finding the right ones - even from the hundreds of rescued donkeys we take in each year.
“By training them here at Sidmouth we can ensure they’re ready to go out into the community, and by having donkeys in training all the time we can ensure we have donkeys trained up to replace those that need to retire from their therapy projects and go out on foster, for example.”
The team hopes to have eight donkeys in training shortly. Demand is exceptionally high because the charity is expanding its donkey assisted therapy service to new schools and care homes all over the country. This year new projects were launched in Halifax, Rochdale and Preston.
Further therapy projects were launched in Romania and Ethiopia with donkeys trained in those countries.