As we are aware, effective communication is an essential ingredient in any relationship.  At the same time, whether it be friend to friend, parent to child, employer to employee or human to animal, 93% of the transference is non verbal and subconscious  according to social scientists.  We think that what we SAY is important when, in fact, that is the least significant element in the dialogue.

The other day, during a visit to the barnyard, I happened to observe someone in the act of greeting one of the donkeys.  Clearly, the person  meant it to be a positive, affectionate interaction because her words conveyed delight.  At the same time she strode over to the animal with arms outstretched and moved them around the donkey’s nose and eyes as she talked.  Of course, the donkey reared back and, in the process, the person exclaimed that the animal was being standoffish.

But that was not really the case.  In the moment, I put myself in the donkey’s place and imagined  a person approaching me, making unintelligible sounds and with fast-moving hands and arms coming towards, and then rubbing all over my face.  It would be an unpleasant experience, to say the least.

I guess that people do things like that to the other animals because our instinctive urge is to control and there is nothing that says that more strongly than the attempt to grab at the head.  This urge, this habit is demonstrated in most human/animal interactions, be it with dogs, cats, equines, cattle but if we were to stop and think about it we could see that the EFFECT of the action is contrary to the verbal intent. 

There are so  many dimensions in human/animal communication and we have only in recent years come to appreciate them.  Undoing a habit can be tiresome but the benefits in the long run – better communication – make the effort worthwhile.

Sandra Pady, Founder



SoloSolo has been on my mind for the past week.  This is  due in large part to a recent sojourn in Quebec City during which the pervasiveness of la belle langue francaise sparked memories and associations too seldom remembered.

When the Sanctuary was in its infancy – and I was 20+ years younger and braver – there were no second thoughts required when a call came in that 2 donkeys in north-eastern Quebec were in need of a home.  Not only that, but their owners had not the means to trailer them to the DSC and so  my dear friend, Virginia, and I literally hopped into her rig and drove for 15 hours to the village where the donkeys lived.  The trip itself is another story but suffice to say that that is how Solo and his father, Tic Tac, came into our lives.

Solo was a strong, wilfull creature, eccentric in many ways when compared to the other donkeys,  but during the decades that he lived at the Sanctuary, Solo taught me so much about the intricacies of the animal behaviour.  From the beginning  he refused to remain in the company of the other equines.  He had been bottle-fed when a foal and had bonded much too strongly with his human caregivers.  Subsequent ‘training’ at a neighbouring farm turned out to be riddled with violent actions and so for the rest of his life Solo was wary of the company of men. (I do want to pause at this point, though, and acknowledge the special, very close relationship that Solo enjoyed with Kyle, a former caregiver here at the Sanctuary.)

I will never forget Solo’s  first days with us, standing alone by the fence nearest to the house and braying every time we emerged.  In his way, he was stating ever so stongly that he needed another kind of daily environment.  Finally, we compromised and  Solo ‘lived’ in the barnyard which, over time became the residence of our older, gentler donkeys, those long past the need to play or chase or otherwise unsettle Solo’s fragile calm.  As well, he made it clear from the first that  too much handling would never be an option, especially if someone tried to touch his enormous, beautiful ears.  But Solo enjoyed  to follow staff around as they worked at chores and every now and then he would come for walks around the pond with David and me.  At other times,  when he could skirt through an open gate, always Solo could  be found subsequently standing on our porch with his large head pressed against the kitchen window.  (I do think we would have let him stay there had it not been for his habit of ‘marking’ the porch in a territorial way.)

As the years passed Solo’s need to be alone increased.  On Open Days he started to walk away from visitors.  Instead, he would stand by the fence to the Office Paddock, ‘telling us’ that that was where he preferred to be.  Over time, regular visitors came to anticipate the sight of  Solo standing in the highest part of the Paddock, gazing around in between naps, clearly content in his solitude……

Well, this walk down memory lane could go on forever.  It is enough to say that I am grateful to have known this wonderful donkey.  “Je te manque, beau ga'”.

Sandra Pady, Founder