1960s: The journey begins

In 1969, Dr Elisabeth Svendsen MBE made a dedication to one donkey by the name of Naughty Face. 50 years on, her legacy has enabled us to take 20,000 donkeys into our care.

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A life dedicated to donkeys in distress

Our journey from humble beginnings to one of the world’s largest equine welfare charities is testimony to the compassion and dedication of thousands of people who have been inspired by the vision of our founder, Dr Elisabeth Svendsen.
Naughty Face

The 'intelligent face' that lead to Dr Svendsen's lifelong devotion to donkeys

1969

Dr Svendsen buys her first donkey, Naughty Face, for £45 while she is running the Salston Hotel in Ottery St Mary, Devon.

Any account of The Donkey Sanctuary must begin in the summer of 1969 with Naughty Face.

Naughty Face was acquired when our founder Dr Elisabeth Svendsen was running the Salston Hotel in Ottery St Mary, Devon, a country house with eight acres of ground.

Glancing through the local newspaper, Dr Svendsen saw the following advert: “Pedigree donkey mare for sale, Kennetbury Martha – apply Mr Mogar.” The Svendsen family immediately drove to West Hill to meet Kennetbury Martha, who cost £45. Dr Svendsen later wrote: “She had beautiful limpid eyes and such an intelligent face that I really have to blame her for everything that happened after.”

In the following week the Svendsens built a stable and fence around the field at the front of the hotel, and bought bales of straw to make a deep bed for their imminent arrival.

Dr Svendsen recounts sitting on the paddock rails watching as the donkey confidently walked down the ramp from the truck and inspected her new home, both field and shelter: “I was absolutely entranced by the way she moved, the intelligence used in examining her new surroundings and the way that every few moments she would come back to me at the fence to gently nuzzle me and as if to say: ‘Please don’t go, I’m only looking round a moment.’ I was hooked!”

When the donkey nudged Dr Svendsen almost off the fence, she exclaimed: “Stop pushing me with that naughty face.” From this moment on, Kennetbury Martha affectionately became Naughty Face. Not long after, Dr Svendsen purchased a best friend for Naughty Face: Angelina. Who would have known that these two fond friends would be the first of around 20,000 donkeys to come under The Donkey Sanctuary's care.

Dr Svendsen and Naughty Face
Naughty Face
Salston Hotel aerial shot
Dr Svendsen and Naughty Face. Pictured here is also the Salston Hotel, the first home Dr Svendsen shared with her beloved donkeys.

At the centre of the herd

Naughty Face stayed close to her owner for the rest of her life, and was perhaps the best loved of all the donkeys owned by Dr Svendsen. She became something of a matriarch in the herd, particularly after the family and their donkeys moved to Slade House Farm in Sidmouth, Devon. Dr Svendsen recalled: “She had a stable in the main yard not far from the bedroom windows and when there was a donkey in trouble it was always Naughty Face whose bray called me out.”

Naughty Face died in the summer of 1992 and was buried at The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth in the Rose Garden, close to the original farmhouse. What she left behind was a legacy for donkeys in need not only in the UK, but across the globe.