The unseen scars of animal abuse

A group of Blackpool beach donkeys living in extreme fear of violence were rescued from their abusers with your support. Now they need a lifetime of help to overcome their ordeal and emotional torment.

Your ongoing support can help more suffering donkeys like Bruce.


The sight of donkeys on the beach is a staple of many British seaside holidays. For 29 Blackpool donkeys, however, each trip to the beach began and ended with a nightmare.

CCTV footage received by The Donkey Sanctuary shows the donkeys, including Bruce above, enduring terrible physical abuse – being slapped, punched, kicked, whipped and hit with pieces of wood – as they are loaded to be transported to the beach.

Thankfully, a collaborative effort between The Donkey Sanctuary, the RSPCA, Blackpool council and police enabled the donkeys to come into our care.

The shocking CCTV evidence – together with the expert testimony of our head of welfare, Hannah Bryer and lead behaviourist, Ben Hart – resulted in a conviction against the donkeys owners. They were prosecuted under the Animal Welfare Act and banned from keeping animals for three years.

When Hannah visited the donkeys at the site of their abuse, she was appalled at the conditions she witnessed:

“Inside the barn was a deep accumulation of soiled bedding and faecal material. There was a scattering of bedding but not enough to provide a clean, dry, comfortable resting area for the donkeys. Food was available but insufficient for 29 donkeys.

Blackpool beach donkeys in sordid conditions
Blackpool donkey at rescue site
Bethany, Blackpool beach donkey

“Outside, the concrete yard was in need of repair and was treacherous underfoot. There were deep wells containing mud and excrement and areas of fencing were broken, creating a hazardous area where the donkeys could have caused themselves harm.”

The state of the donkeys varied: one donkey was severely underweight, several were lame, nine were diagnosed with Cushing's disease (a potentially fatal hormonal disorder), two had laminitis, and one had an aggressive sarcoid (skin tumour).

Although the donkeys have come into our care with your support, their road to recovery has not been smooth. Two of the donkeys had health complications affecting their wellbeing so greatly that vets took the decision to put them to sleep, and spare them from further suffering. For the remaining donkeys, their rescue was only the beginning of their recovery.

Your support gives donkeys a voice

Donations help lift neglected donkeys like these out of dire circumstances.

Healing deep emotional scars

What the CCTV footage doesn't reveal, however, is that the harm these donkeys received at the hand of their previous owner goes beyond physical pain.

The constant fear of physical abuse the donkeys lived with each and every day, also resulted in terrible emotional damage they buried deep beneath the surface. This has left them with mental scars that will take a long time to heal.

Care plans have been developed by our team to enable this group of gentle donkey friends to slowly grow in confidence and heal their emotional scars.

As part of their treatment plan, the donkeys are undertaking small steps in a process called “shaping behaviour” to encourage them to feel safe around their human handlers.

The donkeys are slowly but surely coming out of their shells - seeking out their grooms for affection and love - but they still have a long way to go.

A fresh start for Bruce

Bruce has made great strides on his journey to a full recovery and has recently found a loving new home at a high school through our Rehoming Scheme. The school’s existing resident donkey, Luke, was desperate for a companion after his previous partner passed away, and Bruce’s gentle nature seemed like the perfect fit.

In his new role at the school, Bruce will be looked after by supervisors and groups of pupils in a bid to keep them engaged with education in a way that is not solely academic. Bruce has settled in well and he and Luke are helping the children, some of whom have additional needs, understand the importance and joy of being outside. Both donkeys are also helping these children to understand how important it is to care for animals in a way which meets both their physical and emotional needs.

It’s wonderful that Bruce has found a mutually-beneficial life that can help heal the scars of his past, and as part of our Rehoming Scheme, the school, Luke and Bruce will receive ongoing support from our team.

Thanks to you, Bruce and his friends have a safe and secure future ahead of them as they continue on their journey of recovery. They will need a lifetime of help to overcome their ordeal – and with your support, we can be with them every step of the way.