If you have the time, stand up from your chair and walk around for two minutes with your eyes closed. Don’t reach out your arms, just keep them at your side. To me, whenever I try to move around ‘blind’ in this manner, it is always a great shock and my other senses jump to the fore in compensation for the absence of sight. Time passes more slowly, the minutes are ‘long’. When I return to ‘normal’ I experience a great feeling of relief
This little exercise is meant to introduce Oliver Twist to you, a blind donkey who has lived at the Sanctuary since autumn, 2019. This is the first time that the DSC has been called upon to give care to a sightless animal and we are finding as the weeks pass by that Oliver’s presence in our lives has brought a new dimension to our general experience of the world.
Oliver is a dark brown, small Standard who was between two and three years old at the time of his arrival. We have little information about his background, save that a kind woman had seen him languishing in a stall on a cattle farm and subsequently arranged for the little donkey to be brought to her place. Soon thereafter, she contacted the DSC and requested that we take him in.
For his first two weeks with us, Oliver lived in quarantine in our special treatment stall where staff could monitor his condition throughout each day. There was so much to learn about caring for a blind animal and we turned for advice to The Donkey Sanctuary in Devon. As well, we were helped greatly by one of our supporters who lives outside Winnipeg and who had given care for many years to another sightless donkey. From the beginning, we observed that Oliver had astounding hearing in spite of deformities in the shape of his ears. (We don’t know whether this has been the case since birth or that the ears were damaged by frostbite.) At first, Oliver was agitated easily and he coped with this nervousness by walking in circles counter-clockwise for minutes on end. The motion appeared to soothe him and to this day he will revert to that pattern if he is unsettled or confused.
At the end of the initial period, Oliver was castrated and following his recuperation staff started to bring him out of the stall and they allowed him to roam around the interior of the treatment barn for increasingly extended periods. They couldn’t get over how quickly he became familiar with the other stalls, doors and gates. His ability to sense another presence was uncanny and his ears moved around all the time, picking up sounds. As he became more comfortable, Oliver started to attend to other donkeys at which point it was decided that Duke, an 18 year old, docile, small Standard with limited vision might be Oliver’s companion. Finally, Ellie, a one and a half year old Miniature who arrived in February, was encouraged to join the other two. In no time at all they formed their own group.
On sunny days Oliver, Ellie and Duke are taken to a paddock at the side of the treatment barn where they can roam around or munch on their hay. When Oliver is led in and out he understands when staff say, ‘step’, ‘wall’ or ‘watch out’ and he responds accordingly. Staff have been impressed greatly by the quickness with which Oliver learns. Rainy or cold days find them back inside, roaming around the interior or standing together in an empty stall. Come warmer weather, Oliver, Duke and Ellie will probably be moved to the Recovery Paddock, a larger area with its own shelter.
So, this is Oliver, learning his new world and impressing everyone who crosses his path. Close your eyes again to appreciate anew the challenges and accomplishments of this little brave donkey.