All Animals’ Essential Needs

          At our annual meeting in May Rob Laidlaw, the Founder of Zoo Check Canada, shared his convictions about satisfactory standards of animal care.  Rob is a tireless advocate for better animal welfare and he crisscrosses our country annually in his efforts to improve the quality of life of animals that are in confined environments.  Over the years, he has seen an extraordinary variety of living arrangements.

          As Rob pointed out, legal requirements for animal care in Canada centre around the needs for adequate food, water and shelter.  What these criteria fail to consider, however, is the psychological well being of animals, those conditions that must be in place additionally so that all creatures, pets and otherwise, can live natural, positive lives.

          According to Rob, and we agree with him entirely, there are 4 additional needs that are essential in any environment designed to provide humane treatment: 

SPACE – Cargo, an 8 year old Standard donkey living here at the Sanctuary Farm, is a perfect example of one who must have enough space in which to live.  Cargo is always on the move, roaming in our fields, encouraging games of play, and quick to go up and welcome visitors.  In a confined paddock or pen, he would be frustrated and restless all the time.  In a stall, he would soon develop self-destructive behavioural habits.

Freedom of Choice – Making decisions should not be a luxury for animals.  They know very well what they need for a satisfactory life.  Summer, our oldest donkey at 41 years of age, selects very clearly her activities.  On Open Days, she will walk up to specific visitors and give them her attention.  Then, when she has had enough, Summer goes to a shady corner, where she can stand alone and rest.  Summer tolerates going into a stall for her special meals and then, when she is finished, she brays most definitely that it is time to open the door.  We are convinced that this ability to shape her own environment is an important factor in the list of reasons why Summer has lived so long as she has.

Proper Social Context – Before Jacques was brought to the DSC, this dark brown Standard donkey was made to live with a herd of horses.  Their natural tendency is to establish a hierarchy and Jacques, as a donkey, had been pushed to the bottom and ostracized.  He would stand for hours, alone in the corner of the herd’s field, clearly frightened and overwhelmed.  Once he was brought to the Sanctuary farm, however, Jacque’s behavior changed completely.  He became playful, lively, always ready to frolic with his gelding donkey companions.  Over the years, we have seen time and again that donkeys like to live together.  As with all creatures, human and otherwise, they are most comfortable with their own kind.

Things to Do – There are few things so desperate looking as an animal, confined to a cage or tied to a chain, alone with a rubber tire that is supposed to be a source of entertainment.  Animals are curious and their intelligence is almost always underestimated by human beings.  Jimmy and Reno, two of our mules, are always ready for something new.  Their hearing, eyesight and sense of smell are dramatically superior to those of a human being.  They thrive on diversion and they explore every inch of their grazing pasture that has hills, trees, open areas and dirt patches for rolling.  At other times, their interactions with human handlers provide opportunities for socialization and problem solving while, in the Fall, they will stand most patiently under the apple trees waiting for a windfall.  For our mules as well as for all animals, variety is the spice of life.

          Indeed, there are seven essential needs that must be met if animals are to live healthy, contented lives: food, water, shelter, space, choice, social context and things to do.  By satisfying these requirements, the matter of humane care takes on a whole new meaning.

Sandra Pady, Executive Director


In Memory of Dr. Elizabeth Svendsen

With the recent death of Dr. Elizabeth Svendsen, the world has lost a truly great friend to all animals and donkeys in particular.

Dr. Svendsen started The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, Devon, England forty years ago and in that time the organization has admitted and cared for over 14,500 donkeys.  The Sanctuary is a model for all such operations  both for its domestic work and for the extensive help that it  has given to working donkeys worldwide.  Dr. Svendsen was always at the heart of The Donkey Sanctuary and, until her retirement a few years ago, she was the driving force behind all of its accomplishments.

For my part, I contacted Dr. Svendsen for the first time in 1991 when I enquired about what might be involved with starting and operating a donkey sanctuary here in Canada.  At that time, and over the years, she was always helpful and encouraging.  Much of what The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada is today is owed to Dr. Svendsen and her staff and the marvelous example that they have set.

Dr. Svendsen has left an outstanding legacy to the world and she will be missed for years to come.  With deepest sympathy to her family and to her colleagues.

Sandra Pady, Executive Director