I have been in the process for some time of reading through Ben Hart’s exceptionally helpful  website,  Ben is an equine trainer whose positive, supportive training practices can be used with donkeys to great effect.  As his website begins, “Ben has a mission to provide safe, ethical, sustainable behaviour training for horses, donkeys and mules worldwide by using the practical application of the science of behaviour”.

The website itself has a wealth of information, clearly presented and best digested in thoughtful doses.   There is much to be learned from his methods and philosophy, and as his points accumulate in the mind a total picture comes gradually into view.

Early on, Ben introduces his students to the practice of creating a ‘shaping plan’  for a particular animal, a plan that relies on small steps and much positive reinforcement while creating freedom for the trainer to be more in the moment with their animal.

The use of the word, ‘shaping’ is singular in itself and it reveals some of the nuances of the Hart philosophy.  According to the  Oxford dictionary to shape is “to create, form, construct, model, mould, fashion, bring into desired or definite figure or form”.  Whatever the end goal, when shaping is involved rigidity, impatience and absolutes have little place.

In centuries gone by, and unfortunately still in too many communities today, people believed that equines had to be ‘broken’, an act that involved cutting or tearing, dividing or dispersing into two or more parts. The goal here was to break the animal’s spirit, to overwhelm to the point that there would always be submission. It was and is a cruel, unnecessary approach, one based on the assumption that the equine is lacking in rational intelligence and sentient feeling.

The practice of breaking an equine hung around for much too long and it was not until the twentieth century that the expression, “Teach Not Make, Train Not Break”, began to circulate among some members of the equine training community.  This methodology was and is less antagonistic.  Instead of approaching the donkey, mule or horse as an adversary, the metaphor of the classroom tempers the process.  The teacher/student relationship is more compatible, with a suggestion of working together rather than beating down a perceived ignorant will power.  With this approach the trainer is working in the realm of the positive, recognizing innate potential, deserving of respect.

It is  from here, I think, that we move logically to the idea of ‘shaping’ equine behaviour.  The small steps, the positive reinforcement contribute to a training process that does not harm the animal physically or psychologically.  The aim is to work in the moment with consistency and clearly defined goals, with a rhythm that removes stress from the training experience for both parties involved.

Whether you are a trainer looking to improve your methods, a small landowner thinking to take in a donkey or other equine as a pet, or a city-dweller generally interested in the equine world, there is much to be learned from visits to Ben Hart’s website.  His positive approach is ethical, safe and sustainable — qualities that should be inherent in all relationships, human/equine and otherwise.

Sandra Pady, Founder






With November being such a dour month, what with its gray skies, persistent rain and diminishing hours of daylight, I am taking the opportunity to brighten your day with some images of Kate Pratt’s  donkeys.

These adorable crocheted equines are hand made by Kate who is a retired school teacher and a dedicated DSC volunteer.  Every Wednesday morning she can be found volunteering in the barn and then in the evenings while watching television Kate raises funds for the Sanctuary by creating these delightful stuffed creatures.  Each is one of a kind and sells for $25.

To date, Kate’s donkeys have garnered almost $5,000 for the Sanctuary, funds which have been used to support the construction of cement padding, fencing in the mules’ paddocks and supplies for some of our donkeys and mules with special needs.

As well as being available for sale in our Long Ears Boutique, particular donkeys can be ordered to accompany  sponsorship packages.  If you would like further information:

Thank you, Kate!



The Canadian poet, Ken Babstock, came to visit the Sanctuary one afternoon in 2010.  His recollections of that time make up the wonderful poem below which can be found in Methodist Hatchet, a collection published by House of Anansi Press in 2011.

Our last Open Days this season will be October 21 and 28. We hope you will visit, too.

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.


P A C E ……….for the donkeys!

The temperature is dropping this morning, instead of rising, and that is a sure sign that autumn has arrived. It means, too, that  PACE for the Donkeys, our annual 5km walk/run, is at hand.

On the morning of Sunday, September 30th, hundreds of participants – all ages and in all sorts of condition – will gather at the Sanctuary to run/walk our fields and trails.  This country event will be paced over hay fields and donkey paddocks, through forests, up hills and down, along trails, lanes and paths.  Some racers cover the distance in just many minutes while others amble along enjoying the sights and scents of the natural environment.  PACE is a time to feel good about our world and its animal populations.  Smiles are always the order of the day.

And there are really good prizes, too: for the top number of pledges, for the young people in their 100 yard dash, and for the top three who log the fastest times.  It is definitely a morning in the country for animal lovers of all ages.

So, come along and take part.  Links to the registration are at  You’ll be glad that you set your alarm!

And best of all?  The monies raised will be used for the care of our rescued donkeys and mules.  See you there.

Sandra Pady, Founder

PS:  Were you aware that a group of donkeys is known as a Pace of Asses?  That from Dame Julyana Berners in the Boke of St. Albans, written in 1388.


It rained very hard last night and early this morning.  When I walked up to visit with friends who had come to the Sanctuary for a Wednesday Open Day, the air was heavier than usual.  As a result, voices in the paddocks were muffled  while all around it was coloured either green or grey.  The mist softened everything, though, giving the scene the aura of an Impressionist painting.

There were fewer visitors than usual and they were spread out in the paddocks patting and talking softly to the donkeys.  After a few conversations it was clear that everyone had really wanted to visit with the animals today; even the forecast of more rain had not dissuaded them from making the trip.  A small group of children were so excited to meet Valentine, the donkey, whom they had decided to sponsor.  They had spent several afternoons making and selling lemonade in order to raise the sponsorship funds.  Their quiet pride for that achievement made them glow a little bit.  Another group was made up of the staff from the Canadian office of World Animal Protection.  They had opted to visit the donkeys during their staff appreciation day.  It was so encouraging to hear about some of their work.  World Animal Protection is a global organization that sponsors both national and international projects.  Pride in their achievements was evident as well.

While these conversations and so many others were taking place, DSC Staff and Volunteers mingled amongst the visitors, answering questions, sharing their enthusiasm for the donkeys,  while watching all the while to make certain that toes weren’t going to be stepped on by the animals who moved amongst the groups.   DSC personnel are always quietly alert on Open Days; they feel a very real responsibility for visitors and animals alike.

To complete this enchanting scene, several donkeys ambled around.  While most eyes were upon them, their attention was being given primarily to the sweet grass at their feet.  Nevertheless, I observed that they would stand very still whenever hands reached out to pat their sides.  It was nice to watch Speckle and Juanita, in particular, two donkeys who have been with us since 1991, looking so much at ease with all of the attention.  They used to be skitterish, rather hesitant around people.  Our respectful attention to them over the years has made a difference.

One is fortunate to experience times like this.

Sandra Pady, Founder




Yes, everyone in our part of the world is feeling the heat these days. For the past week temperatures have been 30+C and to walk, even just to and from one’s car can feel  like an immersion in a steam bath. While each one of us has a story to tell about the weather, this morning I was reminded that particular admiration is due from all of us in our air conditioned buildings to farm workers everywhere who have little choice but to be outside most of the time in summer.

During our walk up to the Sanctuary today, at the corner of the barn wall where the main yard opens up, I collided with a wall of hot air.  In the instant, the temperature rose dramatically and enveloped me in a cloud.  Instinctively, I took a step backwards.  At the same time Kayla, one of our animal care staff, approached and of course she was wearing jeans. My obvious comment that they must be very heavy was completely unnecessary.  Kayla, and every other staff member working with the animals, has no other choice.  When one is engaging with large animals, sweeping out stalls, dragging water troughs, hefting bags of feed, throwing bales of hay……..the list is endless and all of it must be done with some protection for one’s humanly delicate skin.  Day after day under the hot sun, encased by the heaviness of denim on the lower body means that  extra-ordinary effort is required just to walk around.  Stamina takes on a whole new meaning under such conditions.

Meanwhile, as we humans attempt to stay cooler, the donkeys and mules  handle the heat in their particular ways.  They go out to graze in the coolness of the nights or early mornings.  No unnecessary effort is expended in their movements.  They amble around the pastures, graze a while, and then stand very still.  Much of the time shade is sought – be it in the relative cool of the Donkey House, barn or Mule Motel – but at the same it is not unusual to see an equine standing, snoozing in the full sun with short summer coat glistening in the heat.  Soon enough, the time for movement arrives, though, and then more than likely a trip is made to a water trough for a good, long drink.  It is so evocative to watch a donkey or mule take up the water and then work that coolness down his or her long throat.

They say that this extreme heat will carry on a few more days.  During that time, our staff will carry on in spite of the temperatures and because of their commitment to their work.  At each day’s end, the shower must feel so good.

Sandra Pady, Founder






Big Ben, born in 1989, is an easy-going Mammoth donkey who was brought to live at the DSC in 2015.  He gets along very well with the other equine residents and he is a favourite with staff and volunteers.

When Ben first arrived he had very little hair on his legs and his previous caretaker had thought that to be a natural condition.  With the arrival of  warm weather, however, flies began bother him and  we soon realized that Big Ben was not hairless on his limbs after all.  Rather, he had become adept at pulling out the hair on his legs in the effort to get rid of the annoying insects. ( There is probably something about Big Ben’s body odour that is a magnet for the flies.)

During his first summers with us, Big Ben was often in the barnyard where he could have fly repellent applied regularly.  That was somewhat of a help but everyone had to remain vigilant about its applications.  It was only a tolerable solution.

This past winter, though, one of our animal care staff, Elizabeth Brezina, made a clever suggestion, somewhat in jest, “Maybe Ben should wear leggings!”.  Sheila Zanyk, a DSC  volunteer, overheard the comment and she decided to give the leggings a try.  Designing, sewing and fitting these covers turned out to be quite a challenge  but  Sheila persevered. The stylish leggings were finished just in time to greet the heat.  They are proving to be a great success……he now has two sets!

After just a few weeks with the leggings,  the hair on Ben’s legs is everywhere it should be.  The flies have had to move on.  Such relief!  Such a clever solution!

Sandra Pady, Founder