CHANGE is in the Air

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.

PEACEFUL IMAGES AT CHRISTMASTIME

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

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!

LIVING PROPERTY

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.”

Sandra Pady, DSC Founder

CLARITY

While I was visiting the barn this morning I caught myself experiencing one of those infrequent revelatory moments in life when light and sound are clearer than usual.  The murmurs of staff as they carried out chores, the sweet snuffling noise that the donkeys made as they pushed their noses through the hay, the autumnal morning light that was moving through the sky.  The sensations coursed through my mind and with them came fresh appreciation for the work that is being done by our charitable organization.

At all times, the donkeys and mules receive the kindest, most thoughtful, professional treatment.  Animal care staff and volunteers look to the animals’ needs while others engage with the thousands of visitors that come up the lane, in addition to staff who reach out to share our experiences and knowledge with the greater community. Our example is meant to inform, to educate.

On mornings like this one, there was renewed clarity of purpose for me, and the words of Russell Means, the Oglala Lakota activist, came to mind with fresh inspiration:

“We’re not here because we’re concerned about the odds against us.  And we’re not here because we’re concerned about winning or losing.  We’re here because this is the right place to be, the right thing to do, and the right time to do it.  You do what you can in the present and that contributes to whatever the future is going to be.”

That’s how I felt as I gazed around the barn this morning. Yes, we can. Each one of us can.

Sandra Pady, Founder

ANOTHER SEASON

Sunday, October 27th, will be the last regular Open Day at the DSC Farm this year.  Its arrival will herald an appreciated  break for volunteers, staff and the animals too, because the days have been busy giving a welcome to almost 20,000 visitors these past 6 months. In the process myriad questions have been answered, informative lectures have been given,  countless, stories about the donkeys’ histories have been related, thousands of pats have touched furry coats – with all of this being done in the hope that young and old will better understand  the dimensions, requirements and responsibilities of “taking care” of our animal friends.

Back in 2010 the Canadian poet, Ken Babstock, visited the Sanctuary.  He watched, listened and admired the donkeys, mules, hinnies, and their caregivers. The poem below is the chronicle of this visit. Every time I read it, I learn something new about what we are doing here and why it is being done.

Autumn News from the Donkey Sanctuary

Cargo has let down
her hair a little and stopped pushing
Pliny the Elder on

the volunteer labour.
During summer it was all Pliny the Elder,
Pliny the Elder, Pliny

the – she’d cease only
for Scotch thistle, stale Cheerios, or to reflect
flitty cabbage moths

back at themselves
from the wet river-stone of her good eye. Odin,
as you already know,

was birthed under
the yew tree back in May, and has made
friends with a crow

who perches between
his trumpet-lily ears like bad language he’s not
meant to hear. His mother

Anu, the jennet with
soft hooves from Killaloe, is healthy and never
far from Loki or Odin.

The perimeter fence,
the ID chips like cysts with a function slipped
under the skin, the trompe

l’oeil plough and furrowed
field, the UNHCR feed bag and restricted visiting
hours. These things done

for stateless donkeys,
mules and hinnies – done in love, in lieu of claims
to purpose or rights –

are done with your
generous help. In your names. Enjoy the photo.
Have a safe winter

outside the enclosure.

Ken Babstock
In Methodist Hatchet, published by House of Anansi Press 2011

Sandra Pady, Founder

The DONKEY DRABBLE book is here!

With much pride The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada announces the publication of DONKEY DRABBLES, our new collection of 100-word prose pieces in praise of donkeys and mules.  

DSC donors, volunteers and staff share their literary talents in these essays through personal reminiscences about the animals. With sympathy and delight the authors describe their sometimes surprising yet always satisfying interactions. Each essay is a complete story unto itself, illustrating the axiom that there is much to be said through the expression of more with less. 

Early reviews of the book have been filled with praise. “Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down.”, “What a delight!”, “I laughed, I sighed.”

75 pages. Each drabble accompanied by a corresponding photograph. Unique 3 grommet binding. $21.99 – a perfect gift. Available for purchase at the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada’s Long Ears Boutique, in person, or via the Long Ears online store.

Sandra Pady, Founder