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In 2019 a group of fourteen donkeys from Co. Cork came into our care. Parsley was one of the youngest donkeys in this group. Unused to being handled, he was nervous and frightened.
Parsley was thin and his lice infested coat was dirty and matted. The New Arrivals team knew they needed to treat Parsley urgently. Given that Parsley was a wild foal - due to lack of human contact before his rescue - he was sedated in order for his coat to be fully clipped.
Ask any American about the Irish and their donkeys and they will tell you about a Connemara landscape where a red headed boy and his little sister are loading turf into the creels (baskets) on the back of a donkey. What they actually remember is a famous postcard by the late John Hinde who had a post card printing business in Dublin. He was a pioneer of colour photography and at his peak he sold over 50 million postcards annually. There was no email, Facebook or Instagram back in his day, yet the popularity of his postcards led to them being posted all over the world. The card featuring the boy loading turf onto the donkey was probably one of the most iconic images of its day.
Earlier this year the owners of a donkey named Dylan reached out to us for help as they were having difficulty handling and managing him. Welfare adviser Ciara O’Kelly responded and found that Dylan had lived as a solitary donkey for the past three years. Dylan had developed behavioural habits commonly seen when young male donkeys are kept without a suitable companion. Ciara recognised that Dylan would benefit from donkey company and appropriate human interaction and recommended that he come into our care.
The start of a new life for Echo began when welfare adviser Jane Bruce responded to a report of a donkey with extremely long hooves. When she attended the location, she discovered Echo, a severely neglected donkey whose hooves were at least three times the length of normal hooves.
“The neglect of Echo’s hooves stands out as one of the worst cases that I have witnessed”, says Jane. “He was shifting his weight from one foot to another in order to alleviate the pain in his hooves. He could not be left to continue to suffer in this state”.
When we were alerted about a group of donkeys outdoors during a cold snap, we responded to help guarantee their well being.
In January 2019, we received a call from a concerned member of the public about a group of donkeys in Kerry described as ‘underfed and miserable’. With a yellow weather warning already in place for snow and ice, welfare adviser Ciara O’Kelly responded quickly.
Although donkeys share ancestral origins with horses, they have evolved differently over millions of years and are different. Domestication has done little yet to dull their natural instincts. Dullness (in the sense of apparent despondency) in donkeys is as serious as colic or long-bone fracture in horses: the dull donkey may already be suffering (but hiding) a terminal illness. We sometimes mistake 'stoicism' for indifference. The ‘stoic’ donkey will often mask severe signs of disease – it is not that he is not suffering. It is more that he doesn’t wish to show weakness to the world, as the latter is not a good survival strategy in the wild.
The Donkey Sanctuary remains at the forefront of donkey welfare issues, promoting responsible ownership, health care and addressing the over production of donkeys in Ireland. We identified a worrying trend from the beginning of 2019 of unwanted donkey foals of which 12 alone this year have been relinquished into our care.