Every year around this time I begin to anticipate the arrival of visitors on Open Days. Some friends of the donkeys stop by time and again, always with smiles on their faces in anticipation of time to be spent in the rhythm of the animals’ world. One such person was Merne Childs whom I got to know rather well. She is deceased, now, but the support that she gave to the Sanctuary continues to this day due to a helpful bequest that she made in her Will.
Merne Childs began to visit the DSC in its early years of operation. She was a widow, living alone in an apartment in Milton, Ontario. Merne lived a very active life. She enjoyed to go on bus tours and, at least twice every season, she would come to visit the donkeys in the Sanctuary.
Each year, soon after Open Days resumed in May, we could count on the fact that Merne would arrive early on a Sunday morning. She had several favorite donkeys and she would always be sure to greet them in turn. Merne had always been attracted to the gentleness of the animals and during every visit she much enjoyed to sit on one of the benches in the barnyard watching the quiet activity.
One day in the late 1990’s, Merne purchased a winning lottery ticket. She described with much pleasure her trip to the lottery office in Toronto where she picked up the prize money. Within a week, she had sent along a special donation and we remember her saying that since she did not need the money it gave her such pleasure to help the animals.
When Merne died, it felt like we had lost a friend. We had always looked forward to her visits and it was sad for us to think that she would not be around the farm any more.
In Merne’s Will she directed that her estate should be divided among her three favourite animal charities and the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada was one of them. This most generous bequest formed the basis for the Sanctuary’s investment portfolio. Its growth will ensure the future care of the donkeys and mules.
We will always be grateful to Merne Childs for her compassionate, far-sighted planning. The bequest that she made continues to help us to this day.
Sandra Pady, Founder
Alice, a dappled grey Standard donkey, lived at the DSC for several years. Although she has since died, Alice made a singular impression on all of us and every year, around Easter, I am reminded of one of her Palm Sunday visits to an area church.
From time to time calls have come in to the Sanctuary with the request that we take donkeys to local churches to be a part of their Christmas or Easter services. As those of you familiar with Christian traditions are aware, donkeys are integral to each of these pivotal biblical stories. It was a donkey who transported Mary to Bethlehem before Jesus’ birth and then, for his triumphant final entry to Jerusalem, Jesus chose to ride a donkey. In our experience, the impact of the recounting of the stories is made much more dramatic when a donkey is present in the church. Of course, whenever we attend these events we select our most easy-going, adaptable animals to take part and Alice was often chosen.
On the particular Palm Sunday morning of this story, the sun was shining gloriously and there was a tangible freshness to the air. Earlier, Alice’s coat had been brushed to its shining best. When the time came to depart, she walked in her dainty manner up the ramp and into the trailer. The trip took almost an hour and when we arrived at our destination Alice walked just as calmly down the ramp, into the parking lot where she stood patiently waiting, as if to say, “Now, what?”
Ahead of us was the 100 year old stone church. When we approached the building, Alice climbed the steps without hesitation. Then, however, she came to a full stop before the black rubber mat just inside the doorway. It took us a moment to appreciate that to the donkey’s eyes, the mat was not solid; instead, it appeared to be a deep dark hole. We looked around in some confusion and fortunately, we spied several sheets of newspaper lying on a bench nearby. We covered the mat with them. Alice looked at this new surface and glided serenely through the doorway.
Inside, the walls of the nave were trimmed with decorative oak wainscoting. The windows were fitted with stained glass while sunshine filtered through the many colours causing rays of blue, red and green to float in the air. As we stood in the rear, we noted that the pews were filled with worshippers of all ages.
The service began with a procession. When Alice was led up the aisle we could hear the murmurs of surprise, especially from the children in attendance. She walked up to the chancel and stood quietly off to the side while the narrative was read. We were very proud of her. Her presence so greatly enhanced the narration, making it feel closer at hand, more real. Then the minister gave a brief sermon after which the time came for Alice to walk once again along the centre aisle.
By that point in the service, many of the children had moved to the outside edge of their pews so that they might have a better look at Alice. I remember noticing that there was a little boy, about 4 years old, standing half way down, nibbling on a cookie as he waited for Alice to pass. As she drew nearer to him, the little boy stopped eating and held the cookie at shoulder height while he stared, entranced. Quick as a flash, never missing a beat, Alice reached over and plucked the cookie from his hand. His jaw fell open and his eyes widened in surprise while the donkey continued along, munching contentedly.
And there it was. A moment in time: the dark pews, the backs of the congregation, the filtered light shining down the aisle, Alice and the little boy with the cookie in his hand. Memories like this one are better than photographs, I think. When I close my eyes I can still hear the clip clop of Alice’s hooves on the stone floor as she left the church, enjoying the last of the biscuit.
Memories like this one mean so very much; for me, Alice and the cookie and the hopeful message of Easter are all together in my mind.
Sandra Pady, Founder
I have long been ambivalent about fences. Is their function truly positive, to keep us safe, to mark boundaries, or do they form a wall that bars us from ‘the other’? Philosophical questions like these are not the stuff of everyday thinking and yet they come to mind whenever the need arises for new fences to be constructed at the Sanctuary Farm.
Decisions to add fences are never taken lightly. The animals’ needs are always the first concern but these have to be weighed in light of the obligation to provide a safe environment for visitors. After all, we live in a society now where ‘being careful’ is the order of the day. The spectres of court cases and rising insurance premiums have made most of us wary of the unexpected, of the unknown.
Time was, here at the DSC, when we operated in blissful ignorance of such matters. We assumed that everyone could be careful and quiet around the donkeys. Harsh sounds can startle most people, let alone animals with outsize ears suited to hearing the most distant of sounds or the most delicate. We would point this out to visitors and then encourage them to wander amongst our equine friends. For that matter, occasionally we brought people into the fields so that they might better experience the environment from the donkeys’ perspectives. Of course, twenty years ago there were far, far fewer visitors and it was easier to monitor behaviour.
Nowadays, in our increasingly urban, densely-populated society, more and more people want to visit the animals whose presence is largely absent from everyday life. And when they come to visit us, people appreciate a hands-on experience. They want to pat, to smell and to hug the donkeys. We want that too because we know it’s good for both parties.
Well, this is all to say that we have constructed some new fencing in the visitors’ areas of the Farm. To my mind, staff members made brilliant decisions re the placement of these dividers. While the donkeys in the barnyard can still mingle with people, the animals now have more space to be on their own when they need a break. Human attention is positive but it can also be tiring.
Fences are a fact of life that I must accept, it seems. My efforts to understand ‘the other’ will have to be made in spite of barriers that separate and protect.
Sandra Pady, Founder
When we walked up to the Sanctuary this morning, most all of the equines were out in the fields, roaming around looking for bits of Spring green. After almost six months they are tired of dry hay.
As well, there were a few donkeys standing by the fence in the parking lot and I took the time to scratch some of them right on the top of their heads. While I scratched the first one, others moved in to take a turn. With every one I could feel something like a shiver of delight running through their torsos as he or she stood with head lowered a bit, ears back, totally involved in the pleasure of the moment. They lose themselves in physical sensation so well.
As I scratched the thick, wiry winter hair the observations of the essayist, George Monbiot, came to mind. Writing in the Guardian Weekly recently, he lamented our increasing inability to experience, “immersed [as we are] almost permanently in virtual worlds”. The further we distance ourselves from tactile, physical reality, the greater the probability that, “all [events, crises, happenings] can be reduced to abstractions”. As we disconnect from the real world, so will we become highly vulnerable to manipulation of all kinds.
So there it is. We are on a slippery slope and to stop the free fall we had better step outside. The natural world, the animals around us, we must keep in touch with ‘the other’. That way we will retain our perspective and independence.
Sandra Pady, Founder
In typical March fashion we have experienced a return of winter’s snow here at the Sanctuary Farm. Just recently, during her visit on a chilly afternoon, Kathy Gerry, a DSC volunteer, took this engaging photograph. Kathy is a retired portrait photographer who has taken hundreds of photos of the animals over the years. This portrait is a wonderful example of how her work captures so often the inborn elegance of the donkeys.
I expect that Hutch (3 years) and Jerry (17 years) were standing as still as statues when Kathy aimed her camera in their direction. Clearly, movement in the field had captured their attention. The hair of their coats is fluffed out, too, and to run one’s hands over the surface would be like feeling the bristles of a soft brush. Their coats are very appealing like this, calling out to be touched and admired.
Hutch and Jerry have lived at the Sanctuary for almost a year, now. Their former living condition was sorely neglectful and by the time the DSC was called in to help the donkeys had been abandoned. They were existing on a ramshackle farm along with several other animals including two young mules whom, we were told, had been sired by Jerry. Since the arrival of this group, Hutch and Jerry have settled in well to the Sanctuary’s routine. Both of them are very comfortable members of the larger herd. As is the DSC’s policy, we will care for these donkeys (and the mules, Roan and Coal, too) for the rest of their natural lives. We look forward to many more snowy days when we will see them standing at attention in the snow, concentrating on the details of their winter world.
Sandra Pady, Founder
I am not a student of statistics but every now and then it is helpful to look at the accomplishments of the DSC community in numerical terms.
At the Board Meeting in late January the year, 2016, was quantified in several areas. By the numbers there were many reasons for everyone – donors, staff and volunteers – to be proud of the work that has been done. At year’s end:
- 73 donkeys and 9 mules were in residence, receiving 24 hour care, at the DSC Farm.
- 32 donkeys were residing at DSC Foster Farms. The network has grown.
- 16,000+ people had visited the Sanctuary on Open Days, Donkey Day, Tour Days, PACE, and Donor Appreciation Day. We welcomed visitors as part of our Education Program which aims to encourage as many people as possible to recognize and to respect the unique qualities of the animals.
- Staff: Animal Care: 3 FT, 2PT; Foster Farms: 1 PT; Education: 2 PT; Administration: 3 Full Time, 1PT seasonal; Retail Manager: 1 PT. With exceptional dedication our small number of staff achieved so much.
- Volunteers: In all areas of our operations, 14,000+ hours of work were donated by our generous, hard-working volunteers.
Finally, this August we will celebrate 25 years of work on behalf of the donkeys and mules. There are so many reasons to be grateful.
Sandra Pady, Founder
We have experienced many cold, snowy days recently when sunshine has been at a premium. Of course so long as one bundles up, walks can be invigorating and there is so much at which to marvel in the still, blanketed woods.
Nevertheless, as I ambled along this morning while the dogs zigzagged through the trees, PLATERO AND I came suddenly to mind. I was not surprised. This prose poem, written in the early part of the last century by Juan Ramon Jimenez, always fills me with sunshine. The work conveys in elegant, spare language the charms of an Andalusian village where the poet shares his life with Platero, his donkey companion. Whenever I read this lyrical tribute, I am charmed anew by the respect and affection that the poet has for his equine friend. The warmth of their world is like a tonic that can relieve the weight of even the grayest winter’s day.
The following is the first passage of PLATERO AND I:
Platero is a small donkey, a soft, hairy donkey: so soft to the touch that he might be said to be made of cotton, with no bones. Only the jet mirrors of his eyes are hard like two black crystal scarabs.
I turn him loose, and he goes to the meadow, and, with his nose, he gently caresses the little flowers of rose and blue and gold….I call him softly, “Platero?” and he comes to me at a gay little trot that is like laughter of a vague, idyllic, tinkling sound.
He eats whatever I give him. He likes mandarin oranges, amber-hued muscatel grapes, purple figs tipped with crystalline drops of honey.
He is as loving and tender as a child, but strong and sturdy as a rock. When on Sundays I ride him through the lanes in the outskirts of the town, slow-moving countrymen, dressed in their Sunday clean, watch him a while, speculatively:
“He is like steel,” they say.
Steel, yes. Steel and moon silver at the same time.
Sandra Pady, Founder