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