Hello, Dolly: New-found friend helps heal heartbreak

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Dolly looks less than amused with Topper's antics, but the pair are now firm friends.
Dolly looks less than amused with Topper’s antics, but the pair are now firm friends. © The Donkey Sanctuary

A giant Poitou donkey left heartbroken by the loss of his best friend has found a new companion thanks to international animal welfare charity The Donkey Sanctuary.

Topper, a 14-year-old Poitou – one of the largest breeds of donkey – lived with his companion Amber at their owner’s property in Wiltshire. But when Amber succumbed to cancer, Topper was left alone, pining for his best friend.

At around the same time, a donkey named Dolly had been brought back into the care of The Donkey Sanctuary after a previous rehoming had not worked out. She had lived at a home with two other donkeys, but had not bonded them and it was felt that it was in her best interests to find her alternative companionship.

Donkey Welfare Adviser Justine Thomas could see that Dolly was unhappy, and believed that there was someone out there who could provide her with the love and attention she deserved.

After hearing about Topper’s plight from his owner, Justine worked with colleagues at The Donkey Sanctuary, in particular New Arrivals Manager Sara Blair-Salter and Senior Veterinary Surgeon Alex Thiemann, and arrangements were made to introduce Dolly to Topper at his home near Marlborough.

Poitou donkeys are a rare breed and require a specialist care regime. Justine knew that Topper’s owner, who is vastly experienced and knowledgeable in their care, would help Dolly settle in when the pair were introduced.

Measuring an average of 14.2 hands high (142-152cm), Poitous are distinctive not just because of their size, but also their long shaggy coats. Although a regular breed of donkey, 14-year-old Dolly was particularly tall, so would match Topper’s stature perfectly.

Topper and Dolly with Sarah-Jane Newton. The two donkeys have become inseparable.
Topper and Dolly with Sarah-Jane Newton. The two donkeys have become inseparable. © The Donkey Sanctuary

“Donkeys form strong and long-lasting friendships and much prefer the company of their own kind, so it was very important that we found Topper a new donkey companion,” said Donkey Welfare Adviser Justine Thomas.

“Dolly turned out to be the perfect partner.”

Topper’s owner and Dolly’s new Guardian, Sarah-Jane Newton, said Topper was clearly in distress at being on his own. “I was extremely concerned for his welfare, even to the extent that the whole family slept out in the garden summerhouse right next to his stable, just to keep him company at night.

“The Donkey Sanctuary was amazing. Justine and the team pulled out all the stops and Dolly soon arrived. Topper was beside himself with happiness when he saw her, and although Dolly needed some time to settle in and get used to her new environment, they both desperately needed a best friend and bonded almost immediately.”

Dolly and Topper have proved to be a perfect match.
Dolly and Topper have proved to be a perfect match. © The Donkey Sanctuary

Sarah-Jane said they are now inseparable. “It has been wonderful to watch their relationship blossom. Dolly is a wonderful donkey with a huge personality, they are the perfect match for one another.”

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.

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