Newsletter Autumn 1996
The arrival of Mouse, the piebald mare.
As a lovely warm, dry September gives way to our more usual wet and windy autumn weather it is time to report on the events of a busy summer before knuckling down once again to the winter routine.
Our summer started on a very sad note when Tomas, our much loved dark brown gelding, had to be put to sleep. He had not been himself for some months with increasing 'off days' and slow weight loss, despite extra rations and special care. His passing is perhaps best described in the words of Lylie Young, who was staying here with my mother on holiday at the time.
'Such a beautiful dawn, balmy and gentle. We are at peace and blessed. Suddenly the barking of a canine friend, anxious and calling. Tomas, the brown donkey, not having been well for several days, was starting his journey homeward this peaceful morn. Slowly he moved from the lower pastures, making a painful way to the place where some of his friends awaited him in the sleeping place of their spirits, to which he was now being drawn. Human carer and two elderly friends hurrying to give him love and comfort and help, on which we intuitively knew was his last journey. The dogs Spuddy and Pagan, plus the little black cat leaning against the dead whitethorn. One could feel the presence of all unseen friends from all the Kingdoms, willing him to seek the pathway home. Then came a little bird, orange of breast and plumage of blue, singing his heart out -"love is here, be not afraid".
Then came a car and one with help, knowing the means to end the suffering and with kindness and compassion put an end to his life. For all the years of suffering and neglect the last five years were full of a great love given from humans and animals and in this he has been cushioned. I feel very privileged to have walked this journey with him and at the end to have met three lovely young men who asked permission to lay him in his last resting place. God be with them all.'
Thank you to everyone who supported Tomas and helped to make his last years comfortable and happy. He was over 30 years when he died.
Around the same time our good friend and neighbour Mick Healy, without whose help in the early days the Sanctuary may never have flourished, was transferred to the long-term wards of St. John's Hospital, Sligo, following a stroke and subsequent fall which broke his hip. At Mick's request his two ponies, Charlie and Sammy, joined the Sanctuary permanently. Mick wanted the assurance that they would not be sold on or separated and that they would always be looked after. This arrangement not only pleases us and the ponies but a delighted Jeremiah, our mouse coloured donkey who has spent the last two years mooning over the fence talking to the ponies. He is now totally devoted to them.
Then in July my father, Geoff, another ardent Sanctuary supporter, also went on his last journey after a long and terrible illness which he bore with great courage. Those of you who met Geoff will remember him as a fountain of knowledge on a huge variety of subjects and a great lover of Nature. His bi-annual holidays at the Sanctuary were always spent cleaning and sharpening tools, painting, putting up everons, mending fences, inventing gate closures and generally making improvements to benefit donkeys and carers alike. There is no doubt he will be greatly missed.
Our most recent donkey is a lovely grey gelding of around eighteen years, brought in from the north of lreland/Leitrim borders following a report from concerned friends who gave willingly of their time and effort to put us in touch with the donkey's owner, who, unfortunately, not only suffers severe rheumatoid arthritis but had just lost his wife with cancer: he was in anguish over what would happen to the donkey now there was no-one able to look after him. Neddy was used to cattle for company but had not been with other donkeys for 14 years so he was impatient to join 'the gang' and has integrated joyfully and easily. It will take some time to correct Neddy's badly overgrown hooves though even after only one session with the farrier, it is easy to see from the photographs that he is much improved.
Neddy's 'rescuers' have asked if he can be rechristened Oisin as nearly every donkey we bring in, if it has a name at all, is called Neddy. The name change was going well until a witty neighbour, viewing his hugely elongated hooves for the first time said; ' Hmm - flat tyred' I have a horrible feeling that Neddy Flat-tyres' is going to stick!
Neddy having his hooves trimmed
Whatever his name, he is a lovely donkey who was suffering neglect through circumstances rather than wanton abuse, so please, if you see a donkey anywhere with badly overgrown or misshapen hooves, get in touch with your nearest donkey sanctuary or lSPCA officer. As we see from this example your action could save much human anguish as well as animal suffering and we cannot stress enough that we are here to help, not to cause trouble, unless the animal is the obvious victim of senseless cruelty.
lt has been a summer of thanks to many supporters: to Jane and Geny Canning for the gift of their old hayshed free for the dismantling and removal, and for the long term use of their concrete mixer; to Lylie, Joy and Susan, who with help from a host of other wonderful helpers, raised £367.00 for the Sanctuary when they held a garden party in Penzance, Cornwall; to additional anonymous donations amounting to £500.00; to Eugene and Gerry who cut and baled 60 bales of hay for us; to David and Rebecca who donated a further ten bales and lnge and Elke who provided a huge trailer load of loose hay; to the three M's', Mark, Martin and Mike, for all their general help in the building of another field shelter, muck spreading, gardening, painting, concreting, tree planting - you name it - with special thanks to Mark who held the fort on several occasions when I had to be away (no small responsibility!); to Jill for the donation of pony rugs, bandages, halters etc discovered when moving house; to Diane and Michelle for their continued enthusiasm and to lngrid and Jurgen, with whom we will share the hayshed, for masterminding its dismantling and re-erection, for spreading fertiliser, organising lime-spreading and for their unflagging help with the sheep. Help has come from many other quarters too. In fact it could fill another newsletter to mention everyone but please, do accept that even if not mentioned, all helpers are deeply appreciated as without you the Sanctuary could not continue to flourish and grow. Between this extraordinary generosity and the hayshed, which means we can buy in good quality hay and straw while the price is still reasonable, the donkeys, ponies and sheep can look forward to a comfortable winter whatever the weather throws at us. Thank you one and all.
Subiect to certain conditions yet to be finalised the Ministry of Agriculture has accepted the Sanctuary into the Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) which opens the way for up to £800 per year for five yean to be available to the Sanctuary for the improvement of the land, farm buildings, walls and shelter belts of trees, whilst maintaining a sympathetic use of the land and preservation of natural flora and fauna. This will be of enormous help to the Sanctuary and will considerably speed up our self-initiated programme. Our biggest problem is overstocking, about which we can do very little until we are able to buy or lease more land in the immediate area. The ponies will winter on a friend's land and donkey Nellie, plus one other donkey, will return to Nellie's owners in January when they have their land free of cattle and a comfortable field shelter completed.
Whilst on the subject of field shelters, an old pony or cattle trailer with ramp makes an excellent field shelter and has the added bonus of being moveable, either to different fields, or to different areas of the same field to prevent poaching of the land. Even if your donkey will not load he will very quickly follow his tummy if feed is left regularly inside the trailer! Once he connects the trailer with food and shelter you will never have a problem again.
If providing shelter is an absolute impossibility do buy or make a warm waterproof rug for him to wear in the worst of the winter. Full details or where to buy made to measure rugs, and rug making kits, are available from the Sanctuary.
We have two additional sheep - Angus, a black, horned wether, and Hamish, a black lamb with white undersides to belly and tail so he looks a bit like a liquorice allsort! Hamish was a ram lamb so had to be castrated so he would be safe and friendly with the old ewes, other wethers and visitors alike. September, when the flies have finished, is a good time for any medical operation of this nature (donkeys too). Keeping stallion donkeys, except for specific breeding programmes, is not recommended as they can become bold and will almost certainly wander. However unfair it may seem to castrate a male animal, the alternative of having to keep him tethered or housed throughout the entire breeding season (which in the case of well kept donkeys is almost all year round) seems equally unfair. Male donkeys brought to the Sanctuary to stay are all gelded, without exception, and remain in excellent condition afterwards. They are all quite individual in their characters and extremely happy and content.
The other side to castrating male animals is the meat trade. It is now known for certain that hundreds of lrish donkeys have been shipped to the Continent for meat, both for human and animal consumption. Indiscriminate breeding of a species which is long lived (into their 40's) and which really only has value as a pet, is bound to perpetuate this despicable trade, so please do consider the full circumstances before breeding. There cannot be any animal more endearing than a foal donkey but unless the future is secured in a loving home their lives can quickly degenerate into a nightmare of markets, salerooms, indifferent and maybe cruel owners and possibly the final journey in an overcramped meat wagon for slaughter, perhaps long before their natural life would finish.
lnteresting visitors this summer included Alfie and Mouse. Alfie is the foal of Cassie, one of our Sanctuary donkeys. He was holidaying round the West of lreland with his owner and her boyfriend when they decided to come and visit 'Mum' for a couple of weeks. It is difficult to say whether or not Cassie knew her son but certainly their meeting and greeting was a very noisy affair. There is no doubt Alfie enjoyed his two weeks off duty with the other donkeys and judging from the way they all came crowding round on his day of departure they were either sorry to see him go, or envious of his adventures!
Mouse only stayed three days. She is a twenty-five year old piebald mare, bought by her present owner in poor condition from travellers in Limerick. She too, was travelling round lreland backpacking for her owner but is now in beautiful condition, glossy-coated and content. She seemed to enjoy her respite being very much the centre of the ponies' attention, especially Sammie who has had no pony company other than Charlie since he came as a six month foal and obviously thought she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen!
Human visitors were plentiful too - thank you again for all help and support given and for the many bags of carrots the donkeys enjoyed so much. One lady visitor reported having seen nine wild donkeys on one of the Aran Islands, which she said were all suffering from very bad hooves. As this sort of undertaking is out of our league I contacted Paddy Barrett of the Donkey Sanctuary in Mallow, Co. Cork. Paddy explained that he was helicoptered out to the islands four years ago in a largely unsuccessful attempt to catch these donkeys and trim their hooves, but in view of this report he will again arrange for another expedition. Now he knows what to expect in terms of terrain he hopes to solve the problem.
Donkey in the House
We have a problem with Jacob. Jacob is our founder member, very old and with virtually no teeth. He is also a huge character but suffers severe delusions that he is not a donkey at all but really a human in a donkey jacket. On any opportunity Jacob will push his way into the house and 'pull up his chair' at the kitchen table. As there is mostly someone in the house or around the yard in the summer months, Jacob has been allowed the freedom of the garden in the knowledge that without teeth he could not damage the shrubs and flower beds too badly, but could graze the longer grass around the wild' areas of the garden (of which there are many. However, having forgotten one day that he was on the loose, and being occupied elsewhere, Jacob decided to exploit the situation to his advantage, first of all letting himself into the house, then somehow arranging to shut the door behind him. Then he had a field day - or rather a house day: first it was the vegetable rack, then the fruit bowl, then a quick look in the cupboards. Fortunately, he was discovered before he let himself into the bedrooms or he may just have decided to have a lie down to sleep it all off!
On a more serious note, Jacob is becoming increasingly difficult to feed. He consumes huge quantities of pony feed but is no longer able to eat hay or straw so winter feeding is a problem. We have been contacted by other people with old donkeys who have similar problems and can only suggest a pony mix without oats, as oats in any quantity heats up the animals' blood causing laminitis. Finely chopped root vegetables and apples (some donkeys like other fruit too) can be added, as can boiled linseed and extras molasses. If you have access to areas of long grass your donkey will probably manage to eat by pulling the grass with his lips or tongue but short winter grass is not available to him. The first noticeable symptom is often weight loss coupled with no obvious signs of hunger. Please do not ignore this putting it down to natural winter loss or greed. If the donkey is properly wormed and healthy in every other way, check the teeth for you may find your pet is actually starving. Despite all our extra care, which includes keeping him warm to reduce calorie usage, Jacob still loses weight dramatically throughout the winter months and it is a salutary thought that without a good set of false teeth the day may come when we will not be able to feed him enough to make his life enjoyable. If any readers have any input on this subject I would love to hear from you.
Meanwhile it is back to the winter routine and further tree planting. Unfortunately the cold spring with late frosts killed off many of the willow cuttings and set back quite a bit of young growth on other species. However, overall results are encouraging so we will continue to infill existing shelter belts with native trees whilst starting off a new belt on the west boundary, using oak trees grown in the garden from acorns and now into their fourth winter.