Newsletter Autumn 1995

Riverstown Vintage Steam Rally

At the annual Riverstown Vintage and Steam Rally.

For once it is possible to open a newsletter with favourable comments about the weather. Truly we have enjoyed the most delicious summer with day after day of clear blue skies and sunshine, clocking record temperatures for this part of Ireland. The donkeys loved it! Occasionally they would come into the sheds away from the flies, which were a real nuisance at times, but mostly they lay abandoned to the sun, basking in the heat. They are, after all, indigenous to semi desert terrain. It was amazing to see the land dry particularly after the unprecedented rain of last winter. I never would have believed it possible to walk up on the bog land in sandals and have dry feet. The donkeys' hooves gave them very little trouble (except for Susie - more later), and for the first time they all completely lost their winter coats before it was time to grow a new one!

Day Out

Unfortunately the donkeys one real outing to the annual Riverstown Vintage and Steam Rally was on the day before the weather changed. Nine of them were duly delivered to do their piece for the famine village but ended up wet and bored as the rain poured down, and cold, biting winds gave them no ease. At one point they almost became too warm, however, when one of the little cottages built to represent the famine times, caught fire and suffocated us with smoke. Without help from several passers-by who looked after the animals as they were evacuated from their mini-field, the consequences may have been unpleasant but as it was no harm was done, the fire was quenched, and the donkeys probably quite enjoyed the excitement once they had all calmed down. The following day was the first of our long hot summer - weatherwise the donkeys' day out was just one day out!

Donkey Cart

August saw us taking delivery of our much coveted donkey cart, bought from a neighbour who had built it himself about 50 years previously for his own donkey. It is ironical that we had searched far and wide for a proper small donkey cart (there are any amount of pony carts to be had but these are too large and heavy for most donkeys) and when we did locate one it was just a mile down the road. It had been kept for years hanging in a hay barn and was in beautiful condition apart from one wheel which had seized up and a few areas showing a small amount of rot. The vendor, Tommy Looby, not only did an amazing carpentry job replacing all the doubtful areas with new wood, and freeing the seized wheel, but also painted the little cart in traditional red, blue and black. It was in this pristine condition that Jacob, one of our oldest donkeys and the founder member of the Sanctuary, pulled it up the hill for us. It is difficult to know who was the most proud to see it on the road, Tommy, ourselves or Jacob, who loved every minute. And he got an extra carrot for his efforts! The cart has rubber tyres so it is easy to pull on the land.

Sue on the bog with donkeys

Sue on the bog with two of her wards.

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

About a month later, with lsaac in the shafts of the cart and Jeremiah using the straddle, Anita and Ita from Rosses Point, Michelle from Ballyrush and of course our friend and mentor Mick Healy who taught us how to harness up and use the cart, we brought in hay and rushes from our neighbour's land - thank you Brian. Jeremiah carried up the hand made bales of good hay which had been sifted out from the rushy stuff, and Isaac pulled the cart into which we piled all the remaining loose stuff. It was a blisteringly hot day such as is always associated with the romantic notion of haymaking so for our first effort we were unbelievably privileged. Needless to say I took masses of photographs both of Jacob delivering the cart and the haymaking group and.... the film didn't wind on! Fortunately the 'Back-up team' are able to supply excellent photographs.


To return to Susie. Despite the lovely weather and ideal dry conditions Susie has continued, all summer, to be lame on one of her front legs. The farrier is aware that the pedal bone has dropped but hopes that because it has rotated to one side and the sole of her foot is still good it will not actually puncture the sole and come through as was the case two years ago with our beautiful mare Lady. When this happens there is absolutely nothing to be done except to put the poor animal out of its agony by euthanasia. So it was decided to have Susie's two front hooves and pasterns x-rayed so the farrier could see exactly what is going on inside the hoof and, we hope, be able to provide some remedial solution to ease Susie's discomfort.

Usually the paedal bone only rotates after years of mismanagement, either through inadequate or inappropriate trimming of the hooves, laminitis, or a combination of the two. It is a common misconception that a donkey's hooves are made of dead material ie: they do not register pain. In fact only the very outer, horny layer is non-feeling so great skill is needed to trim and shape the hooves properly. Most of the donkeys taken into care have miserably neglected feet which take many years to bring into order. Every trauma they suffer reflects in the feet and has to work itself out through the feet so it is no exaggeration to say that the knowledge of a qualified farrier is as important as having a good vet. We really do have to thank all our vets and our farrier for their interest and enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, in Susie's case the x-rays show a very malformed foot which is beyond help in veterinary terms. While she is happy, eating and joining the other donkeys, all we can do is keep her as dry and comfortable as possible, especially by providing a dry, warm place where she can lie down at any time. Ultimately we don't know. Let's say that a few prayers wouldn't go amiss.


Winter sets in at the Sanctuary.

Donkey Spotting

Thanks to the commitment of several concerned donkey spotters, often holiday makers, we have been alerted to the plight of several donkeys which were suffering in various ways - lack of water; neglected feet; open sores and wounds infested with flies; overtight hobbles and neck ropes - and have been pleasantly surprised by the positive and helpful attitude of most people involved from the original spotters to the owners themselves. More often than not it is a case of not knowing or not realising rather than deliberate cruelty.

A recent report brought us into contact with an unusual excuse for keeping a donkey 'around the house'. We were informed that he 'eats all the scraps - potatoes, meat, even bones. He's better than any dog for cleaning up'! Need I say more? The donkey in question is grossly overweight which is a less common form of cruelty and represents a possible problem. even for bringing him into the Sanctuary. Sometimes overweight donkeys, especially when subjected to stress in the form of travelling, pain, sudden change of diet or restricted dietary intake produce a condition called hyperlipaemia which is essentially a sudden mobilisation of the body fat reserves resulting in excess body fats in the blood. Over a period of about a week the donkey will become depressed, anorexic and eventually comatose so it is imperative that a new dietary regime should restrict weight loss to no more than 2kg per month. Obviously it is most important that donkeys should not be overfed: a weight guideline would be approximately 160kgs for a 10 hand donkey and 170kgs for an 11 hand donkey. Veterinary advice should be sought immediately if you suspect hyperlipaemia as the mortality rate is 90-95%. No time for indecisiveness.

This particular donkey has over 20 acres of grassland entirely to himself as well as the endless titbits and sweets from neighbouring children. His feet are almost non-existent and his coat is long and heavily matted. Despite the hot weather he does not appear to have lost his winter coat properly, perhaps for several years. He is a genuine case of cruelty by kindness and we do very much hope to be able to help him in the near future.

Winter Check


Well Bred

Recently there has been much discussion about donkeys becoming rare in lreland and the need to breed to preserve the species. The main reason why donkeys are becoming scarce is that they have been, and are being, shipped abroad, mostly to the continent, not as many kindly but naively believe, as pets, but more usually for meat. Whilst I appreciate the pleasure of breeding (what, after all can be more endearing than a donkey foal), I beg everyone with a breeding mare or jack donkey to take a responsible attitude towards any breeding programme they may be considering. There is very little work for the donkey in the western world these days and only a limited market for them as pets, delightful as they are. Remembering that donkeys can live into their 40's they could be outgrown and abandoned by many generations of enthusiastic children throughout their lifetimes. Given the added disadvantage of being unsuited to our wet climate (donkeys do NOT have waterproof coats) and the wet, acid soil which erodes and infects hooves designed to live on sand and rock I firmly believe that it is time we gave the donkey a better deal. So please do not breed these wonderful animals indiscriminately thereby adding to the vicious circle of neglected, abandoned and unwanted animals which end their days on a transporter destined for slaughter. Surely it is better to have a smaller population of well cared for, prize winning donkeys that are a credit to the nation?

So now, once again, we give thanks to all the many helpers, donors and adopters who make it possible to continue running this Sanctuary. At the risk of repeating myself we absolutely could not do without you! At this point there is no other funding available for animal sanctuaries so all the money has to come from our combined efforts. With Christmas displaying a donkey in every nativity scene to remind us of one of the many roles they have played throughout history, I wish you all the very best season's greetings.

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