In light of the highly contagious nature of COVID-19, at The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada we have taken steps to ensure the safety and health of our staff, volunteers, as well as those of the animals in our care:
The volunteer training program has been suspended until further notice.
All non-animal care staff are working remotely and only animal care staff are permitted on site. This means no visitors, business partners, volunteers or non-animal care staff. Essential deliveries like fuel areexcepted, as well as the Environmental Committee who will continue to park and work in the fields only.
DSC Foster Farm site visits have been suspended as well as drop offs, intake (unless it is an emergency), non-essential surgeries/animal referrals, and non-essential travel (picking up supplies, etc.)
Messaging will change as the situation with COVID-19 requires.
Ongoing communication is particularly important in the face of so much isolation. We welcome your comments on all of our social media and we will keep you up to date on new developments regarding the animals and the affairs of the DSC.
If you have the time, stand up from your chair and walk around for two minutes with your eyes closed. Don’t reach out your arms, just keep them at your side. To me, whenever I try to move around ‘blind’ in this manner, it is always a great shock and my other senses jump to the fore in compensation for the absence of sight. Time passes more slowly, the minutes are ‘long’. When I return to ‘normal’ I experience a great feeling of relief
This little exercise is meant to introduce Oliver Twist to you, a blind donkey who has lived at the Sanctuary since autumn, 2019. This is the first time that the DSC has been called upon to give care to a sightless animal and we are finding as the weeks pass by that Oliver’s presence in our lives has brought a new dimension to our general experience of the world.
Oliver is a dark brown, small Standard who was between two and three years old at the time of his arrival. We have little information about his background, save that a kind woman had seen him languishing in a stall on a cattle farm and subsequently arranged for the little donkey to be brought to her place. Soon thereafter, she contacted the DSC and requested that we take him in.
For his first two weeks with us, Oliver lived in quarantine in our special treatment stall where staff could monitor his condition throughout each day. There was so much to learn about caring for a blind animal and we turned for advice to The Donkey Sanctuary in Devon. As well, we were helped greatly by one of our supporters who lives outside Winnipeg and who had given care for many years to another sightless donkey. From the beginning, we observed that Oliver had astounding hearing in spite of deformities in the shape of his ears. (We don’t know whether this has been the case since birth or that the ears were damaged by frostbite.) At first, Oliver was agitated easily and he coped with this nervousness by walking in circles counter-clockwise for minutes on end. The motion appeared to soothe him and to this day he will revert to that pattern if he is unsettled or confused.
At the end of the initial period, Oliver was castrated and following his recuperation staff started to bring him out of the stall and they allowed him to roam around the interior of the treatment barn for increasingly extended periods. They couldn’t get over how quickly he became familiar with the other stalls, doors and gates. His ability to sense another presence was uncanny and his ears moved around all the time, picking up sounds. As he became more comfortable, Oliver started to attend to other donkeys at which point it was decided that Duke, an 18 year old, docile, small Standard with limited vision might be Oliver’s companion. Finally, Ellie, a one and a half year old Miniature who arrived in February, was encouraged to join the other two. In no time at all they formed their own group.
On sunny days Oliver, Ellie and Duke are taken to a paddock at the side of the treatment barn where they can roam around or munch on their hay. When Oliver is led in and out he understands when staff say, ‘step’, ‘wall’ or ‘watch out’ and he responds accordingly. Staff have been impressed greatly by the quickness with which Oliver learns. Rainy or cold days find them back inside, roaming around the interior or standing together in an empty stall. Come warmer weather, Oliver, Duke and Ellie will probably be moved to the Recovery Paddock, a larger area with its own shelter.
So, this is Oliver, learning his new world and impressing everyone who crosses his path. Close your eyes again to appreciate anew the challenges and accomplishments of this little brave donkey.
I read a lot, for all kinds of reasons: entertainment, escape, instruction and every now and then, the experience is transformative.
Fortunately, I did not read J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings until recently. Had I read it in my youth, as most people do, I know that I would have been taken up by the story, by the adventures of its indelible cast of characters: Frodo, Gandalf, Strider, Elrond, Lord Sauron, Gollum. There are dozens of captivating personalities who make their way through Tolkien’s fantastic world. Reading The Lord of the Rings in that way makes for a thrilling experience but at another level, for me the impact of the work was more profound. I became aware of this part way through when the ents took centre stage.
These sentient creatures, “shepherds of the trees”, are living in the Fangorn Forest which, we are told, is the last such habitat of its kind. The ents are gigantic, perambulatory beings, given speech in an earlier era and who resemble the trees that they protect. They take the long view, like indigenous people around the earth, always thinking at least seven generations beyond their present. When two hobbits, Merry and Pippin, flee to Fangorn to rest after a searing battle with the evil Orcs, they are taken around the forest by Treebeard, the oldest of the ents. For days they experience the misty, arboreal Shangri-la where they are bathed, soothed and regenerated while this aged, wise ent shares the magic, history and probable future of the Fangorn world.
Although Treebeard and his fellow ents go on to wage a dramatic, successful battle on behalf of the hobbits and their company, it is their time in the Fangorn Forest that resonates particularly in the mind. The little hobbits – and the reader – are embraced by the plant life and we catch a glimpse of its awe-inspiring, nurturing strength.
Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings in the 1930’s when he could not have anticipated the climate crisis we are experiencing less than 100 years later, and yet, his creation resonates with and informs us today. In 2020 we know that the forests are under severe threat and we are only now coming to comprehend that without them we will be unable to breathe. That is such an extraordinary prognosis, one that echoed in the back of my mind as Tolkien guided me through the Fangorn world. Living in a rural environment as I do, I walk through forests every day. Nevertheless, it was during my reading of The Lord of theRings that I truly experienced the pulsating, breathing aspects of the arboreal world. Their branches held me in their arms and like the hobbits I was enveloped by their life-giving strength.
As so many have said before me, the experience of reading The Lord of the Rings is an enchanting one. Certainly, I found that to be the case but even more, I was given the opportunity to grasp metaphorically the breath of life that comes from our arboreal friends and for that, I am grateful.
This year, if I do nothing else, I will plant some trees.
Twenty-nine years ago, when the DSC was a fledgling organization, I became accustomed to expressions of surprise and disbelief at the work we were doing. Donkeys weren’t important enough. Indeed, animals weren’t important enough according to general opinion. Everything else came first. Too many people could not understand why we would put our efforts into such a cause. We soon realized that along with our intention to save creatures from homelessness, neglect or outright abuse, we would have to work equally hard to educate and to help people to understand that everything is inter-related: the way we treat the other animals is a reflection of and shapes the way we treat other human beings.
And over the years our small organization has been encouraged by others, larger and smaller, whom we’ve seen doing the same thing: dog rescues, rabbit rescues, the Turtle Valley Donkey Refuge, World Animal Protection, the Farm Sanctuary, PETA, the Jane Goodall Institute, the Primrose Donkey Sanctuary, provincial and municipal humane societies, the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, The Donkey Sanctuary in England, Change.org petitions, Redwings Horse Rescue…the list goes on and on and as last year came to a close, I realized that an impact is being made on the general mind. Step by step, general attitudes are changing and coming to accept that the protection of animals is an ethical imperative.
Elephant rides in the Angkor Wat World Heritage Site have now been discontinued due to public pressure, the donkeys who trudge up the stairs in Santorini, Greece are on tourists’ minds and there are escalating calls for change in their working conditions, horse-drawn carriages are no longer allowed on Montreal streets. And right in our backyard there are particularly positive developments. As of January 1 a new law and an entirely new system for protecting animals has taken effect in Ontario. This law is an exciting initiative and we must hold the government accountable as the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act is enforced. (To read more about these positive developments, follow this link to a recent Globe & Mail op-ed piece, “Will the rest of the country follow Ontario’s bold move to protect animals?“)
CHANGE, as the singer, Mavis Staples, declares in her hit song, is in the air. That is good news for our animal friends.
Each December, when the stresses of Christmastime threaten to overwhelm, I find comfort in the essential elements of this Christian tradition. The events occurred at a time when people lived closer to the natural world, a place light years away from our jangling, electronic contemporary life.
The story begins with the simplest of images, that of a young couple making their way alone through a crisp desert night underneath a canopy of stars. The woman is pregnant, riding on the back of a donkey and the man is walking at their side. I imagine that the only sounds are those of hooves and feet crunching in the sand with the donkey’s ambling gait setting the rhythm. Their destination is a village that they must reach in order to be counted in a government census.
In the next image, the setting shifts. The woman, the man and the donkey have completed their journey but they have found that the village is packed with other travelers. They have no choice but to huddle in a stable where the baby is born and then placed in a wooden manger on a mattress of straw. Aside from the man and the woman, the only witnesses to this event are the animals nearby. Outside, a bright star above the stable pierces the night. It is this picture of the baby in the crèche, along with the donkey, a cow, a sheep at its side, and the star above, that soothes my mind.
From this point, the mystery of the Christian tradition takes hold. The birth is heralded across the heavens, prompting a pilgrimage to the stable by three wise men, riding on camels, following the star, bringing precious substances to mark the arrival of the divine child. This third image always brings a smile of appreciation as it affirms the dignity, humility and faith of the people involved.
May your Christmas Season be filled with the peacefulness and beauty of the natural world.
Max is a Mammoth donkey and like so many others his size, he lumbers a bit. I was reminded of that tendency as I watched him move around from place to place in the lower barn earlier today. He had just finished his morning meal and was obviously curious to see what staff members were doing as they carried out their chores. (Max usually lives with the herd of geldings up at the Donkey House but when staff noticed that his weight was slipping, he was brought into the Special Needs area in the Century barn where he is fed extra rations 3 times a day.)
Max was born in 1996. He spent most of his life on a farm in Vermont where mules were bred and he was the stud donkey. For almost twenty years, time passed by peacefully enough for him, even given that mules can be fractious companions at times. His caregivers would have continued to look after him for several years more but for reasons of age they had to retire, and so they reached out to the DSC for help. We were able to take in Max and Star, one of the mules.
In spite of that aforementioned inclination to amble around a bit awkwardly, Max is a handsome fellow, enjoying his retirement years living at the Sanctuary. He has been with us since 2017 and slowly, he has become accustomed to attentions from staff and volunteers. He was the subject of particular compliments in our recently published, DONKEY DRABBLES, book.
When next you visit the DSC, be sure to look out for Max. His winter coat is luxuriously soft right now and he enjoys nothing more than a nice scratch on his neck.
DECEMBER 1, 8 and 15, 10am-3pm, Winter Holiday Open Days at the DSC…Max will be there to welcome you!
A recent article in The Globe and Mail (09/09/19), by Professor Alexandra Horowitz of Columbia University, addresses the harsh reality of proprietorial rights. We own our furniture and we own our pets.
Is that ethical?
It is, so long as we assign the same sensibility and emotional capacity to our pets as we do to our furniture. Of course, the initial reaction to such a proposition is one of dismissal, “Our pets are part of our family”, we say. “Our pets make decisions, they experience cold, they react to stress. They are different altogether.”
Different, yes, and there are some constraints on our treatment of them, but Dr. Horowitz notes that qualifiers against the constraints are weighted completely in favour of the owners. We say, “We can break a chair or throw it away, but we can’t do that to our pets!”. Not exactly. On the one hand, our federal laws forbid injuring animals or throwing them away. On the other hand, neglecting a pet is allowed, if it is not “willful”; so is throwing the pet away, as long as it’s in the direction of another set of arms, like an equine auction or a humane society shelter. “We can smash our furniture to pieces, but we can’t do that to our pets!”. Not exactly. Causing animal suffering is disallowed, but only “unnecessary” suffering. If it is deemed justified by the owner, say in an aberrant form of training that deems the suffering “necessary”, then it is allowed. Dr. Horowitz concludes, “In the eyes of the law a dog is a chair is a dog.”
Isn’t it time for a change?
Over the past 50 years, myriad scientific studies have been carried out which demonstrate that animals feel pain, that they show rationality. Added to the science is the philosophical rejection of that old saw that “animals have no souls”. That argument works so long as you subscribe to a value system based upon concepts of superior and inferior, good and bad, ‘man’ and then the rest of the world. Assumptions like those belong to the pre-21st Century mentality. Today, near the end of 2019, as we stare at the ravages of the human-caused climate crisis, it is plainer than ever that we are all related, that every action has a reaction, that we should give care rather than take ownership.
Of course, any societal change, whenever it takes place, takes place in small, measurable steps. Dr. Horowitz is partial to David Favre’s suggestion of a replacement definition for the human ownership of animals as ‘property’, to one that refers instead to animals as “living property.” Such a term would acknowledge that our pets are agents, owners of themselves, along with being sentient creatures whose well-being should be the first human concern. Such an enhanced definition brings with it a fundamental respect for the beings involved as well as more sympathetic interpretations to the laws that watch over them.
For me, it is not about ownership, it is about “living with” and I agree with Randy Sterling of Blenheim, ON, “Our laws need to change to allow the courts to better protect animals that are owned by animals.”