Recently I watched the first of the Paddington Bear movies. It features a young cartoon bear from Peru whose home is destroyed and who subsequently travels to London in search of a new home. Finding himself lost the story ends happily with the bear evading the evil taxidermist and being accepted into the Brown family. Paddington Bear has been around since it was first written in 1958 and the revival of this popular story appeals to children and those like me, not so young, who remember reading it when they were children too.
I was in England recently on a return visit with my DWA (Donkey Welfare Adviser) counterpart in Wiltshire, Justine Thomas. I was learning how the job we both do differs greatly in our individual areas. Two Irish donkeys were on this occasion the focus of our attention. For their story I needed to tell Justine about a livestock mart in Co Leitrim. It was here back in May 2011 that two small brown yearling donkeys huddled together in a big noisy concrete livestock yard came to our attention. For those of you not familiar with that part of Ireland, it is a beautiful county running up to the border with Northern Ireland. Interestingly, Ireland is one of the least densely populated countries in the EU and Leitrim is the least densely populated county in Ireland. It's roads twist around its many lakes and rivers. It has plenty of donkeys as I found out this summer when my work brought me into contact with farmers owning up to 30 donkeys.
The two little donkeys were undoubtedly scared in a yard full of traders, noise, bustle and unfamiliar surroundings. The noise and smells of chickens, goats and small ponies came from their various trailers, whilst larger horses were led through to be auctioned in the main building. It was difficult to gauge how recently our two donkeys had been weaned from their mothers being of a considerably young age. They waited all day and by the close of the mart their owner failed to sell them. As the day went on the other animals were loaded into trailers and one by one left the yard, but by the end of the day the two little donkeys’ owner had disappeared, they had been abandoned.
Thankfully, The Donkey Sanctuary came to their rescue and our two thin young donkeys named Harry and Kate were transported to the nearest Emergency Livery Base. Following initial treatment and care they were then relocated to our main base in Liscarroll, Co Cork. This however was not to be their longest journey and a year later a further journey was to follow all the way to Devon.
In The Donkey Sanctuary’s care in Devon they continued to thrive and had developed into two beautiful donkeys and in 2017 they achieved the ultimate status - selection as suitable for rehoming as Guardian Home donkeys!
Justine had identified a new prospective home who were enthusiastic about rehoming donkeys and were keen to rehome Harry and Kate. I was delighted to be present to witness the arrival of these special donkeys in their new home. It seemed very fitting that an Irish Welfare Adviser accompany them on the very last part of their journey. As Harry and Kate walked down the ramp they got a look at the pasture, the concrete yard, their new purpose built stable and the smiling faces of their new Guardians. A privileged moment indeed for me to witness.
On my homeward journey the stewardess on my flight home said, "sit back and relax and enjoy your flight” my thoughts returned to these two donkeys our real life “Paddingtons”. Their story also being one of uncertainty and adventure. They are not cartoon characters but are every bit as cute and certainly cuddlier as the fictional character. Harry and Kate are lucky donkeys who are now enjoying the security of a real caring home where love, cuddles and chats will be available in ample amount. This is what real donkeys are all about.
The Paddington Bear story is a warm popular story with a “happily ever after” ending. Harry and Kate’s story is more remarkable because so many Donkey Sanctuary staff in different locations, have given it a real life happy ending. I wish Harry and Kate and their Guardians many happy years together.