When donkey welfare adviser Ian Colton recused an abandoned mare and her foal earlier this year in Co.Offaly, it was touch and go whether or not they would survive.
As the wood thinned it gave way to boggy ground covered with short grass and the twisted roots and branches of birch trees. The sun dropped lower in the sky, its rays hitting the sides of the branches creating a distinctive contrast between light and shadow. Into this surreal landscape the small grey donkey mare and her foal emerged from the trees to graze. The foal was clearly keeping close to the scrub, so he could disappear at the first hint of a threat.
I had found this farm late on a Friday following a report of a donkey on the public road. A local person suggested I park on the roadside and walk down the lane flanked on both sides by piles of rubbish, tyres, silage plastic and pallets.
The Department of Agriculture had planned a collection of unregistered animals in the area. These animals were ranging over a wide area comprising of bog, forestry and farmland that was reclaimed from the peat bog. Running through this area was a public road onto which the animals frequently strayed. The Department had also received reports of animals on this road, causing a danger to both drivers and the animals themselves. With the Department’s consent I arranged to collect the little donkey mare and her foal.
The foal had no hair on his lower legs, a sign that he had been spending most of his young life up to his fetlocks in mud or wet peat. The mare’s long winter coat hid a pitiful thin body. That was the least of my worries. Her hooves were the worst I had ever seen, with all four being very long and twisted. To reduce her pain, she lay down whenever she was not grazing. I wondered if we could save her at all.
Time to call in reinforcements from The Donkey Sanctuary in the form of Eugene Butler. His experience and farriery skills dealing with deformed hooves was once again urgently required. He pared her hooves and we wrapped and support bandaged them. We started her on twice daily pain relief medication. Meanwhile the foal got some oil in his feed to ease his apparent constipation.
The mare and foal now called Daphne and Murphy received treatment from Niamh Mulligan, our local Equine Dental Technician. Daphne was very sweet but clearly her hooves continued to give her pain. It became clear that she was in no condition to rehome anytime soon. However, it was Murphy who a week later turned his head to the wall and went into real decline. Our local vet, Tom Griffin, injected pain relief and antibiotics and also took blood samples which we sent to the laboratory in our sanctuary hospital in Liscarroll, Co. Cork.
The results showed kidney problems and fluids were administered by intravenous drip. However the treatment did not appear to be working. The sad truth dawned; there was a strong likelihood the suffering animal would have to be to put sleep.
But Tom refused to countenance this last resort without organising an operation. The emergency intervention, involved the removal of a stone the size of a conker from his urethra, the tube between his bladder and body exterior.
Next day Daphne and Murphy were transported to UCD veterinary hospital. A week later they were well enough to be moved to The Donkey Sanctuary in Liscarroll.
Daphne still has hoof difficulty and x-rays show severe bone deformity from years of neglected long hooves. She receives weekly trimming to reshape her hooves and with daily pain medication she is walking normally. Hopefully as her bones benefit from a proper diet and her hooves grow they will straighten and accept her weight without pain. The latest veterinary update is that her prognosis is good, what a relief to all.
A bright future
On a recent visit to our farm in Liscarroll, I made a point to see Daphne and Murphy again. What a change! Daphne’s long coat has been clipped and she has gained weight. So dramatic is the change that I did not recognise her at first.
Murphy is now running and playing with the other young donkeys. From the first moment I saw Murphy his hold on life was so very delicate. Now thanks to a lot of help and a few lucky breaks his life expectancy is measured in decades.
Daphne lived a life in constant pain where survival was a constant struggle. Now free of pain she is putting on weight and while she has still got some way to go her life is immeasurably enhanced. With each day they spend in our care that uncertain thin margin between life and death widens into a bright future.
Thanks to your support and the help of the professionals we work with, we can continue to make a real difference to the lives of donkeys like Daphne and Murphy. Simply click on the DONATE button below to make a donation today. Alternatively you can donate by calling us on 022 43398.