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2005-11-22 Let's give donkeys some respect

Over two thousand years ago, in a lowly stable in Bethlehem, shepherds, Wise Men and assorted farm animals were witness to the birth of the Christ-child. One of the animals present on that night was the gentle donkey.

 

Thirty-three years later, a donkey carried Christ triumphantly into Jerusalem. The donkey seems to have always been an integral part of both sacred and secular literature, folklore, mythology, children's stories, and most recently Hollywood movies. Who could ever forget the somewhat gloomy, melancholic, blue-grey "Eeyore" from "Winnie the Pooh"? Along with his friends Piglet, Tigger, Kanga and Roo, Eeyore always attempted to make the most of any bad situation.

Even more recently, Eddie Murphy's visually and vocally animated "Donkey" in the "Shrek" movies is a total delight, as he pursues his dream of becoming a noble steed.

The donkey was once so much part of our own national heritage, famously portrayed in that John Hinde postcard of the red-haired West of Ireland children, alongside the donkey with its creel of turf. This unique animal is thought to have originated in Africa and central Asia. After its arrival in Ireland, the donkey was employed in a variety of ways, primarily in transport and agriculture, hauling turf and pulling carts.

But with the advances in farm machinery and equipment, and in public transport, the unfortunate donkey  once a symbol of rural Ireland  has been somewhat forgotten and pushed aside. These neglected, abandoned and supposedly `useless' creatures, as well as the ridiculously outdated animal welfare laws, need much more public attention.

First and foremost, donkeys need shelter, a little TLC, and a good chiropodist. Donkey's hooves can become deformed, split or cracked from overwork. Some abused donkeys suffer from serious malnutrition. There are large Donkey Sanctuaries at Liscarroll in County Cork, at Sidmouth in the UK, and elsewhere. However, much closer to home, just off the N4 at Castlebaldwin, below the ancient neolithic site of Carrowkeel in the Bricklieve Mountains, Sue Paling runs the Sathya Sai Sanctuary for Nature, a home, primarily, for old, abused, unwanted and abandoned donkeys.

Visit the Sathya Sai Sanctuary website

The Sathya Sai Sanctuary was dedicated to an Indian holyman who initially blessed the project. The sanctuary is a registered Irish charity, mostly surviving from private donations and charity events. The Department of Agriculture and Food give a generous annual grant towards foodstuff for the 26 donkeys, 9 ponies, 2 mules, 3 horses, and assorted cats, dogs and sheep. This is a place where donkeys can enjoy a happy retirement, while learning to trust human beings again.

A donkey doesn't ask for much really  some food (hay, barley-straw, apples, carrots, ginger-nut biscuits etc), fresh clean water, perhaps a salt-lick or mineral-lick, clean and dry shelter at nightime (straw-bedding perhaps), a little exercise, some grooming and foot-care, the usual vaccinations and worming procedures, and if possible some companionship.

These characterful creatures, with their rasping Ee-aw bray, are known to make excellent stable companions for horses, foals, or other donkeys. A donkey in a field of sheep or goats will actively protect the flock from canine predators. Properly selected and trained donkeys can be excellent with children and the handicapped.

In much the same way the Andrex advertisement instigated a sudden demand for Labrador puppies, the Shrek movies revived the interest in having a donkey as a pet.

As Sue Paling correctly says, these movies and ads are a mixed blessing, as we all know a pet is for life, and not just for Christmas.

At the Sathya Sai Sanctuary Sue runs an adoption programme, and perhaps a more realistic and more unique Christmas present might be to adopt a donkey, and then visit your adopted donkey.

For my most recent birthday, I was presented by some friends with a certificate and photo of my adopted donkey Tommi. Tommi is shaggy-coated, black, sweet-natured, though lacking in a little self- confidence, and bullied by his colleagues a little (so a little like his adoptive Daddy actually). From as little as E15 (though preferably more!) you can adopt a donkey, and help give these neglected creatures some badly-needed TLC.

Contact Sue on 071  9666196, or email donkeys@eircom.net to take part in her Adoption programme, or just to arrange a visit. While you're up there, say Hi to Tommi for me.

If you want to see photos of the Sanctuary please visit our Album where you find pics of the donkeys including Tommi