My connection with The Donkey Sanctuary started years ago when I first fell in love with Gwyno and Plato - my favourite four-legged friends - and contacted the late Dr Svendsen for some much needed advice. My story begins back in August 1994 when I visited the Llanybydder horse fair in Wales and came across two desperate souls. I decided on the spot that they were coming home with me and after some hard bartering they were mine. I was told that Gwyno was about three to four years old and probably from Ireland and that Plato was round nine to ten years old and had been with a group of travellers. Neither donkey knew each other at the time, but within a few months had become inseparable friends.
In their new paddock overlooking Cardigan Bay, they had found paradise. But whilst Plato was lovable and very friendly, Gwyno was absolutely terrified - he hid in the bushes or behind Plato and ran away from everybody. It was a nightmare to catch him for the vet and farrier and when caught he had to be sedated. I spent many hours talking to the Sanctuary's welfare team for advice on what to do. At that time I thought I would have to relinquish Gwyno and yet there was something about him that led me to persist.
One enduring image I have of Gwyno in the first few years after I rescued him was that of a sad, lonely, fearful donkey driven by one mission: to hide from all human contact. By sheer serendipity, I met a local girl named Judy, who was an accredited TTOUCH Specialist, a system of hands on touch therapy. The complex tactile language of TTOUCH (Tellington Equine Awareness Method) was used as a communication tool whilst I observed Gwyno's responses, and encouraged positive reactions by cuddles, chats, and small pieces of carrot.
In summary this took many months, and gradually a magical rehabilitation took place. Early on the farrier was not optimistic that Gwyno's extreme behaviour was changeable but hoped that with care and patience treating his feet would one day be manageable. After therapy though, the farrier was astonished that he could trim his feet in a few minutes with minimal fuss. He commented that without this intervention it would have taken another two to three years using his skills, for Gwyno to accept his hoof trimming in some manageable way.
Gwyno became a lovable and very well behaved donkey. I even showed him for the first time at the Carmarthen donkey show and he was awarded a prize. He has also been filmed by BBC Wales for a special show. Sadly, Plato died a few years ago of a heart attack and Gwno mourned the loss of his best friend by hee-hawing and running around Plato for hours. Then because of ill-health, I wasn't able to continue giving Gwyno the care and attention he needed and so in March 2012 I escorted him in to the Sanctuary's lorry and gave him a last tearful goodbye cuddle as he was off to find a new home at Trow Farm in Sidmouth.
Gwyno lived happily at Trow Farm and was of course loved by all the grooms. I came to see him on a regular basis and spent the whole day taking him for walks around the farm. Upon relinquishing Gwyno, I also joined the Rosette Group and had the opportunity during my visits to meet key members of staff and to learn even more about the important work of the charity; something that has given me strength over the last few months.
Sadly, in April 2013, the day came when I was called to the Sanctuary, to share in Gwyno's last hours, and whilst I remain utterly broken hearted, I shall be forever grateful to Kelly who was Gwyno's carer at Trow Farm and Alan Brown, the Farm Manager, for their sensitivity and care as I witnessed the process of laying him to rest. I am glad to have a strong connection with The Donkey Sanctuary and my love of donkeys and support for the charity continues despite my loss.