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
At the DSC, a sure sign of Spring is the increasing frequency of donkey walks by our volunteers. This scene, captured a few weeks ago, has since become quite common around the Sanctuary and all who take part agree that the simpler activities in life are often the best.
Those lucky enough to share such ambulatory experiences well know the quiet pleasure to be derived from ‘taking one’s time’. To accompany a donkey on such an outing is to appreciate the significance of every step taken. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the Buddhist practice of mindfulness walking originated when journeys were commonly made at the donkey’s pace.
Visitors to the DSC often remark about the peacefulness of the environment, the calmness that is in the air around the farm. I have no doubt but that this results from our equine residents’ rhythm of life. Whether they are walking at our sides or just moving around in their pastures, movement at their pace brings its own soothing reward.
Sandra Pady, Founder
The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS), which was established in 2007, is the only globally recognized organization providing standards for identifying legitimate animal sanctuaries. Recently, it awarded Accredited status to The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada (DSC). The DSC is the first equine sanctuary in Canada to receive this Accreditation.
The GFAS standards have been put into place in order to identify the principles of true sanctuaries: ones that provide excellent and humane care for their animals in a non-exploitative environment and having ethical principles in place regarding tours, commercial trade, exhibition, acquisition and disposition, and breeding. While a sanctuary can received Verification of their operation according to those principles, Accreditation status requires that operations meet GFAS Standards of Excellence as well.
The process of accreditation by GFAS is lengthy and detailed. Comprehensive documents are required to be submitted in the areas of Animal Care and Housing, Staffing, Safety and Security, Governance and Finance, and Policies. Thereafter, a site visit by a GFAS representative takes place. Attention is given to every aspect of operations, both in the present and as planned for the future. Further, Standards of excellence have been developed by the GFAS for the care, treatment and management of particular animal groups. The DSC’s work was assessed according to those criteria established for equine care. This Accreditation will be revisited every three years.
Currently, there are 157 groups in 15 countries that have been assessed by the GFAS. It is an affirmation of the high quality of our work that DSC operations and structure have been found to deserve Accreditation.
Sandra Pady, Founder
As we work day to day at The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada, we keep in mind always that it is our community of supporters who make possible all that we achieve. It costs over a million dollars each year for us to help so many animals in need, to provide them with a lifelong home and to share, through education, our deep commitment to the improvement of standards of animal welfare across the board. For twenty-six years it has been a privilege to receive the encouragement of so many donors and to work on your behalf.
On an ongoing basis we aim to provide the best for our donkey and mule residents and the daily challenges can be tremendously consuming. At the same time, though, we remind ourselves that the importance of today must be measured in the context of the future. The animals live long lives and many will need our help ten, twenty years hence. The needs of future generations in every walk of life are as important as the needs of today.
Planning for the future prompted our decision to purchase Walnut Ridge Farm in 2010, so that the donkeys could have a permanent home. This became possible when a substantial bequest allowed the DSC to make the down payment. “Meeting the mortgage” has been going on ever since and by the end of 2017 we had made significant payments.j
That was the situation for us when January rolled around this year when notice came in to us of a particular bequest, received from a long time donor. Over the years this woman had visited the Farm often and she was devoted to the cause of the animals’ welfare. It was this commitment, we know, that prompted her to arrange her affairs so that she could help in a major way to secure the donkeys’ futures. It means so very much to be able to state that as a result of this substantial bequest, the mortgage on Walnut Ridge Farm has been eliminated.
On behalf of the entire DSC community, we express our gratitude for this far-reaching, helpful support.
Sandra Pady, Founder