For World Animal Day, we are celebrating what donkeys mean to people around the world. From Ethiopia to the UK, from Italy to India, these incredible creatures are making a difference to people and communities across the globe.


Donkeys bring health and happiness to people across the globe

In Italy, Chiara suffers from severe physical and psychiatric difficulties.  She is unable to leave her nursing home and is struggles to interact with others, focusing instead on watching or touching the clothes that she wears. As part of her treatment, Chiara has weekly sessions with two of our Italian donkeys, Alice and Primrose.  

Time after time, the curiosity of Alice and Primrose broke Chiara out of her self-focus. She started looking at the two donkeys, paying attention to their actions.  After eight weeks, Chiara even began to reach out to the two donkeys, wanting to caress them. This may seem such a small result, but this was a vast improvement and a clear sign of Chiara opening up to the outside world.

The effect of our donkeys, Alice and Primrose, on Chiara has been quite extraordinary. It has broken Chiara’s emotional circuit, shifting her attention from herself to another self; the donkeys who are just as eager to be cuddled and caressed.

Maria with donkey Panchita
Maria standing with her donkey Panchita
Plastic bottles for recycling in Mexico

Donkeys provide value to people across the globe with the opportunity for a sustainable livelihood

Maria and her donkey Panchita have worked in partnership for ten years in the Mexican city of Veracruz. They collect rubbish, cardboard, iron and bottles that Maria sells for recycling so she can buy food for her donkeys and herself.  

When we met her in 2015, Emma Mortimer, our project support administrator, was amazed to see the amount of bottles that Maria and Panchita had to collect in order to earn just a few pennies. They work six days a week from six in the morning to midday to earn their keep; Maria feeds the donkeys on corn, and in the afternoon she shares her own food with them. 

But this beloved donkey doesn’t just collect disused bottles; when the child of Maria’s neighbour became sick and needed urgent hospital treatment, the donkey was close by to help. Panchita quickly took her neighbours to the hospital and knew to stop right outside the doors before waiting patiently for the child to be treated.

Women and their brick kiln donkeys
Three school girls with a The Donkey Sanctuary staff member
Three sisters in a brick kiln with a mother working with her donkey

Donkeys support communities around the world

In Ahmedabad, India, humans and donkeys work side by side in the brick kilns. In this region donkeys work to haul ‘raw’ bricks from loading stations to the ovens where they get fired dry. At the loading stations, women and children stack the bricks to get air dried before human hands load them back onto donkeys’ backs. It is really a case of people and donkeys working together like a team; the donkeys know the routes and routines and actively position themselves to make the loading easier. The donkeys even take the initiative to walk to and fro between the loading area and the oven, even when not being accompanied by a person.

Life is tough in the Indian brick kilns but the Donkey Sanctuary India train owners to care for the donkeys whose work they are entirely reliant upon. There is still an urgent need to educate more equine owners of the benefits of good practice but, in this kiln, donkeys are treated gently and cared for as ‘part of the family’.

Donkeys can give people a sense of purpose and a place in society

In 2016 we met Tewachew who was living in the village of Gurbite, Ethiopia. He suffered from polio as a baby, and found walking long distances and most farm work extremely difficult. He was completely dependent on the local community and struggled securing basic human needs like food. “My life was at stake, he told us. “I had no job, my younger brother was a school student so it was difficult for us to make money for our daily bread.”

But in 2011, Tewachew met The Donkey Sanctuary Ethiopia’s Amhara team who taught him how to make pack saddles that prevent back sores on working donkeys. “I thought making pack saddles would be a good way to help donkeys and could solve my jobless situation,” says Tewachew.

Every day he makes 2-3 pack saddles for donkey owners across the district and saddle-related wounds in the region reduced from 30 percent to 10 percent in just five years. 

Thanks to Tewachew, working donkeys are receiving a greater standard of care and thanks to the working donkeys, Tewachew is able to start a family. “My physical disability will never stop my ability to make pack saddles,” he says. “I want to expand my business and see all donkeys in Fereswega with no back sores."

We rely on over 600 volunteers to help care for our loveable donkeys and mules in our UK sanctuaries - but the benefit of the gift of time is mutual.

In 2003, Debbie Dean was the victim of a savage hit-and-run incident that left her ‘fading in and out of consciousness’, before an air ambulance took her to hospital where she was placed on the critical list.

The doctors were amazed that she survived as the stolen car had hit her at speeds of over 45 mph, a speed from which only 5% of car collision victims survive. Debbie lost her confidence but since volunteering with The Donkey Sanctuary’s donkey-assisted therapy centres and Outreach Programmes, she has begun to find her confidence again. 

“The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth is my personal sanctuary,” says Debbie. “I feel privileged to have the opportunity to be here - to give pleasure to others. If I didn’t have this place, I’d really struggle. The animals really help with my stress and anxiety, when I am at the donkey assisted-therapy centre or on Outreach my attention is totally focussed on the pleasure the donkeys give to others. Just seeing the pleasure gets my attention and takes it off my own pain."