Safe haven for neglected donkeys after three charities step in

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Smokey on arrival at The Donkey Sanctuary.
Smokey on arrival at The Donkey Sanctuary. © The Donkey Sanctuary

Three donkeys who were found in a state of serious neglect and subjected to misery and pain are now thriving in the care of international animal welfare charity The Donkey Sanctuary.

Rescued from a Lancashire property in 2018 in collaboration with the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare, the donkeys, named Smokey, Belle and Sophie, now have a safe home for life at The Donkey Sanctuary’s international headquarters in Sidmouth, Devon.

Smokey has been discharged from the New Arrivals Unit, and has a new best friend named Caesar. © The Donkey Sanctuary

They all had marked matting to their coats, while two had such overgrown hooves that they had started to curl over. “This would have taken many months to develop and it would have been obvious that they were struggling to walk,” said Hannah Bryer, Head of Welfare at The Donkey Sanctuary.

After being removed from the site, remedial work to remove excess hoof growth was carried out by a farrier before the donkeys were transported to Sidmouth. They spent the next five months being cared for in the charity’s New Arrivals Unit. Most donkeys that arrive into the care of the charity usually spend between six to eight weeks in the unit, but because of their condition, the Lancashire rescues needed a much longer stay.

Sara Blair-Salter, New Arrivals Manager at The Donkey Sanctuary, said there was a huge difference in their behaviour on their first day in the unit compared to their last, thanks to the love and care the team of dedicated grooms provide.

“Every donkey is different. Some of the donkeys that come from horrendous backgrounds come round very quickly, but of course, some may need more time and support. We treat them all individually, understanding what each donkey likes and doesn’t like. It is important to find out what they are comfortable with; it is about getting them to trust us,” Sara said.

“Smokey was a real favourite of ours. He was very laid back and had a lovely temperament. He had a lot of lameness issues, so came to us later than the other donkeys as he was not fit enough to travel, but he loved the company and attention we gave him.”

All three of the rescued donkeys had severely overgrown hooves. Pictured are Sophie's front feet on arrival.
All three of the rescued donkeys had severely overgrown hooves. Pictured are Sophie’s front feet on arrival. © The Donkey Sanctuary

Sadly, two other donkeys named Penny and Jenny who were rescued at the same time developed health conditions, and despite the best efforts of veterinary teams, they were unable to be saved.

But Jenny’s legacy lives on – she arrived at the sanctuary pregnant and gave birth to a foal who was later named Bill.

He was initially very nervous and skittish, which are uncommon traits for a naturally inquisitive donkey foal, but thanks to the expert care of the sanctuary grooms he has now developed into a playful donkey.

Sophie is now living in a group of younger donkeys.
Sophie is now living in a group of younger donkeys. © The Donkey Sanctuary

After leaving the New Arrivals Unit, Smokey, Belle and Sophie were introduced to their new companions. Smokey joined a group of other male donkeys and has become best friends with Caesar. He enjoys being around his companions and is always happy to see the grooms when they arrive to care for him. Belle and Sophie live with a group of younger donkeys at the sanctuary in Devon. Belle loves the fuss from visitors and continues to display confidence and trust in everyone she meets.

The Donkey Sanctuary is a global leader for equine welfare, research and veterinary care. The charity operates programmes worldwide for animals working in agriculture, industry and transportation.

Belle is enjoying a new life with her herd.
Belle is enjoying a new life with her herd. © The Donkey Sanctuary

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