Down and out in Durham: Hungry, neglected donkeys come in from the cold

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Thistle and young companion Declan were found in less than ideal conditions before being taken into care.
Thistle and young companion Declan were found in less than ideal conditions before being taken into care. © The Donkey Sanctuary

A severely underweight donkey, whose bones could be seen through her thick winter coat, is now looking forward to a brighter future, thanks to international animal welfare charity The Donkey Sanctuary.

Following a call from a concerned member of the public in November 2021, Donkey Welfare Adviser Charly Wain arrived at an address near Bishop Auckland in County Durham, where she discovered 16-year-old mare Thistle sharing a hilly field with a foal, both exposed to the wintry weather.

The donkeys were found on land belonging to someone else after breaking out of their own field, and when Charly saw Thistle’s skinny frame and overgrown, twisted hooves, she was concerned about the pair.

Thistle’s hip bones and spine were poking out through her coat, and with no shelter in the field, neither she nor the foal, Declan, had any protection against the cold November drizzle.

Charly said Thistle’s hip bones were particularly prominent. “Her body condition was very worrying, especially as she was exposed to the elements in such a harsh environment. I noticed her hooves were overgrown and twisted and I knew I had to help her and Declan.”

Thistle was comfortable with Charly’s presence, and allowed her to fit a head collar and examine her feet, but Declan was not as confident, and did not want to be handled.

She had thought that Declan was Thistle’s foal as he was trying to feed from her, but it turned out Thistle was brought in as a companion for the youngster.

Thistle was very tolerant of Declan, who was trying to nurse off her.
Thistle was very tolerant of Declan, who was trying to nurse off her. © The Donkey Sanctuary

“This only endeared Thistle to me more as she was so tolerant of a baby who wasn’t hers.”

A vet was called to examine the donkeys’ condition and living environment. It was recommended that they were moved somewhere more suitable as soon as possible for further treatment.

After contacting the owner of the donkeys, it was discovered that they could no longer provide the care they needed, and they agreed the best thing for Thistle and Declan would be for them to be relinquished into the care of The Donkey Sanctuary.

Since arriving into the care of the charity, tests confirmed that Thistle was pregnant, and is expecting her own foal later this year.

Once on hardstanding, the effect of Thistle’s poor hoof health was apparent, as she showed obvious signs of lameness. On closer inspection, vets discovered a hoof abscess and prescribed a course of antibiotics. She also had her hooves trimmed by a farrier.

Declan is gaining in confidence and learning to trust people.
Declan is gaining in confidence and learning to trust people. © The Donkey Sanctuary

Charly said Thistle was doing much better. “She is such an affectionate donkey and very gentle. I am hopeful that with the loving care and attention Thistle is receiving, her foal will now be born fit and healthy.

“Despite his nervousness, Declan is still learning to trust people, but he is gaining confidence all the time.”

It was possible that in the future, Thistle, her unborn foal and Declan would be able to join a Guardian home on The Donkey Sanctuary’s rehoming scheme.

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