Newsletter Spring 1994
Here we are again, six months on and wondering what happened to the time in between
In our case much of it has been spent trying to keep donkeys dry and well bedded in a winter that claims two and a half times the average rainfall in a county that is already far too wet! Thankfully the donkeys have wintered well. Apart from the old scruffy Patch where they are already beginning to lose their winter coats, they are all glossy, well fed and as lively as crickets.
The new shelter shed, christened 'The Bungalow' by a neighbouring farmer who helped to erect it, has proved very popular with the donkeys as it is not only dry and warm but large enough to allow the whole family to shelter together. They obviously enjoy the close companionship and benefit from mutual body warmth.
Since our last newsletter three more donkeys, two more Aylesbury drakes and a kitten have joined us. The drakes, Galahad and Gawain, are true brothers to Lancelot. They arrived just in time to escape the Christmas butchering when they would surely have sacrificed their lives on the table of gluttony and whilst we do not expect they have much awareness of their lucky break, they are extremely happy drakes!
Cleo joined us mid-October. A little scrap of a black kitten, she was brought to us from a farm a few miles away. The farmer was unusually attached to her, saying that she was 'a very friendly little cat', but he was concerned that she would be kicked or trampled by cattle or horses as she seemed to know no fear. Shortly after her arrival my colleague, Lea, bought a small book called 'Cat Spells' from which we learned that a cat should have three names - an everyday name, a folk/fairy name and a mystical name. Never ones to laugh in the face of the little people Cleo was suitably appendaged: Cleo for everyday (Cleopatra for posh), Kitty Witch for her folk name and a mystical name which has to remain a secret! We even considered giving her a proper naming ceremony on the appropriate full moon, but as it was again pouring with rain at the appointed hour she remains a very ordinary, very mischievous, totally adorable black bandit.
At the end of November Solomon and Jeremiah joined us, Solomon as a reject from a local horse fair and Jeremiah who was supposedly his friend. Solomon is a light brown gelding with wise, knowing eyes. Long in the tooth (he could be in his thirties) and even longer in the hoof, we received the impression that the donkey was being sold with the harness rather than the harness with the donkey. Fortunately the owner was persuaded that the dejected old fellow needed to retire without harness (he could sell the harness for the price of the donkey) and thus, Solomon and his much younger friend, Jeremiah came to the Sanctuary.
As so often happens with animals that are traumatised by being shipped about, Solomon developed a nasty heavy cold. He constantly avoided contact with all people and other animals. He was extremely mistrustful of humankind but gradually, as the message began to filter through to him that he was safe, he began to allow us to come nearer, then to touch him. Now he is a convert. Not only does he take the whole cuddling business very seriously, but he will follow us from field to field like an overgrown dog to ensure he gets his share!
Jeremiah is a different character altogether. Obviously he had been well looked after and was confident about being handled. He is a pushy, inquisitive fellow who's motto is definitely 'Me first!', though he is totally without malice. He is an unusual mouse-grey colour with smart zebra stripes on his legs and a black 'Jesus' cross.
Then came Cassie, an eleven year old light brown mare who's owners had to move away and are no longer able to look after her. They heard about the Sanctuary through a mutual friend and rang us to ask if she would be welcome. A date was arranged and Cassie was delivered to the door together with a generous donation towards her upkeep. The whole family was sad to part with her but know they can visit her any time. She has integrated with the other donkeys very quickly and seems to be developing a particular soft spot for Solomon and young Ashtar, probably because they are often housed together overnight. (More about Ashtar shortly).
Our very latest recruit is Jilly, a small dark brown donkey mare. Her elderly owners were finding that looking after her was altogether too demanding. Due to a stay in hospital the person who normally attended to Jilly's winter feeding was unable to do so with the result that Jilly lost condition seriously. She contracted severe foot rot so when we met her she was virtually unable to walk and had to be carried to the trailer for her journey to Sanctuary. (Thank goodness she is only a small donkey!). The farrier had to cut away large areas of all her hooves in order to save them at all so Jilly is now bedded down in deep straw in a warm dry stable while she recuperates. She is also suffering from severe rain scald due to being without shelter in an exceptionally wet winter. It will be many weeks before she is able to join the other donkeys on a regular basis but meanwhile she has two gentle companions overnight by way of Cassie and Jacob. Already she is making short sojourns around the yard and showing a much greater interest in food and life generally. Her owners are missing her but are much relieved to know she is being properly cared for.
Misty ne Mystery
Readers of our last newsletter may not be too surprised that we have had to carry out our threat to rename Misty. She is Mystery after all! Despite expectations, she did not produce a foal and remains as fat as ever, fooling us and some of our farmer friends who have been around donkeys all their lives. We are still puzzled as to why she has never apparently come into season despite being in good health and very lively. Why she is so much fatter than the others when she does not appear to eat any more is also a mystery. If any readers have had similar experiences with donkey mares we would interested to hear about them. It might help us to feel a little less stupid!
Unfortunately, the Sanctuary has not been without its sad moments, this winter. In October we brought in two small donkey foals from the Ballinasloe Horse Fair, Despite their obvious age differences we were told they were both six months old. We were soon to discover that the smaller of the two, whom we named Ayika, was only 12-14 weeks and had been brought, unweaned, direct from Donegal to Ballinasloe where he stood around all day on the Sunday in truly atrocious weather conditions, and again on Monday when we spotted him looking bewildered and weary.
Ayika and Ashtar
Within the hour we had also noted Ashtar in similar predicament, and to keep a story short, a near neighbour, also at the fair with his horse-box, brought them home for us. We suspect the little creatures had had nothing to eat or drink for their duration at the fair and by the time they reached the safety of the trailer they were too exhausted and traumatised to care. On their arrival late on Monday night we transferred them to a deeply bedded, warm stable and called our vet who immediately diagnosed pneumonia and pleurisy. For l2 days we fought hard for their lives, our wonderful lady vet, Sabine, giving generously of her time and patience, but sadly little Ayika died. Mercifully, Ashtar pulled through and is growing stronger every day. He still has a cough which will probably always need special care. He wears a coat during the cold and wet days and is housed at night with our elderly gentleman, Jacob, and a couple of volunteers, usually Solomon and Cassie.
November had us despairing when it seemed we had to lose Lady too. The farrier informed us that the paedal bone in Lady's two front hooves had broken through the soles of the feet. There was nothing more he could do to help. She was literally walking on bone and in unimaginable agony.
The real tragedy is that the condition was entirely due to neglect. Her hooves had been allowed to grow so long and so distorted that the only way she could walk was on the backs of her heels, which in turn shifted the whole balance and arrangement of the bones in her feet, until, unable to contain the pressure put on them they broke through the sole of the feet.
We took advice from two local vets and spoke to a concerned and very helpful vet at Mrs. Svensden's Donkey Sanctuary at Sidmouth, UK, where 6,000 donkeys have been taken into care. All agreed that euthanasia was the only acceptable course of action. We were devastated, as were many of the lovely people who had agreed to sponsor Lady through our 'Adopt a Donkey' scheme.
One young man sent us a beautiful poem he had written for his girlfriend for whom he had not only adopted Lady, but brought her 150 miles to meet Lady. We thank them for their great kindness and share the poem with you here:
Every tear shed in this life because of a good heart, goes to make a cloud to rest upon in the next.
A soft breeze danced over the hills of Sligo, its tempo and tone changing as it ran around the trees and buildings.
If you listen closely the tones sound like the soft braying of a jenny, the tempo is likened to the rhythm of happy hooves on cobble stones.
Perhaps the next time you feel a breeze in Sligo, listen carefully and be happy, for it is the spirit of a little donkey braying -
'Thank you for ending my pain, for loving me, for ensuring that my last months were happy; very, very happy, - and dignified.
If, per chance, the day is calm, look to the highest hill around, smile broadly and give a huge wave, for on the rocky slope stands a Lady donkey, watching over her friends.
As long as Lady Ann is remembered, she will be in the breeze, and on the rocky slopes, pain free and happy.
The day after Lady's parting we found Sir Francis Drake had died in his sleep. It seems trouble really does come in threes.
Ayika, Lady and Sir Francis are buried on Sanctuary land and have a tree planted for each of them. Their passings have prompted us to section off a half acre of land as a memorial garden where more trees can be planted and wild flowers encouraged to grow. Anyone interested in helping towards the cost of planting trees either in the memorial garden or elsewhere on the Sanctuary, is welcome to contact us. We have found to our cost that small trees suffer such damage from hares that it is better to save for trees above four foot high. Naturally, these are more expensive but they have a much higher survival rate.
Many of you have been greatly supportive with help and donations for which we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Without your support there could have been no Sanctuary, so please keep sending your help and your love.
One particular English couple deserve a special mention. Having visited in the autumn and sampled the Irish rainfall they left a generous cash donation towards the donkey's upkeep, then posted us a length of washable, breathable, waterproof fabric with which to make donkey raincoats! Lea, who is a whizz on the sewing machine, has made a splendid job of making up four designer jackets for our most needy cases, including young Ashtar. As donkeys do not have waterproof coats, the jackets are much appreciated.
New Zealand Rugs
On the subject of donkey jackets, we are certain the main reason why Jacob, one of our oldest donkeys, has wintered better this year, is due to his warm, waterproof new Zealand Rug, which has allowed him to graze outside on the bitterest of days, without using up valuable calories to keep warm. In fact there has been many a day when Jacob has been up the hill happily feeding while the others have been huddled morosely in a shed. Before next winter we aim to buy more of these rugs, particularly for the older donkeys and the very young. Anyone interested in helping this specific cause should mark their donations 'Rug Fund' and we will guarantee to use the money for this specific purpose. The rugs are made to individual requirements by Gillrugs, Axminister, England and cost around £45.00 each. Animal lovers generally may find the address useful as the firm also caters for horses, cattle, sheep/lambs, goats and dogs.
Donkeys in Training
Luke, now a strong three year old, and Jeremiah, who is four, have both been trained to harness to pull light loads. The next step is to train them to pull a small cart so they can help with some of the heavier jobs around the Sanctuary. If anyone knows where we might obtain a proper donkey cart, harness or other donkey equipment in reasonable order for very small money we would be delighted to hear from them!
Hubble and Bubble
Last, but definitely not least, we are, at last, officially a Trust and will be known as the Sathya Sai Sanctuary Trust for Nature. The main benefit of becoming a Trust is that we will be able to apply for charitable status in due course which will give certain tax exemptions.
No doubt we will still be known locally as "The Donkey People" and will, of course, continue to help other animals along the way. At present we are enjoying four orphaned lambs, affectionately known as Hubble, Bubble, Trouble and Bedlam.
How to Find Us
Coming from Dublin to Sligo on the N4 turn left at Castlebaldwin cross-roads, beside McDermott's Pub. Pass the school on the left then fork left following the brown signs for Carrowkeel Neolithic Monuments or Passage Graves. After 2.5 miles on a narrow, twisty road you will see the Sanctuary signs. Castlebaldwin is 16 miles from Sligo and 10 from Boyle. We wish you all a very happy summer and look forward to welcoming many visitors. If you can let us know when you plan to call, it is a help.
With thanks again to all of you for your continued and necessary support.