For all of its small size the Netherlands is often a world leader when it comes to  social policies.  Its parliamentary representative democracy sparks legislation that is often the source of  innovative social policies, ones that emerge as a result of coalition governments wherein the smaller parties are able to have their voices heard.

In 2010, just such a situation prevailed and the result was the enactment of far-reaching policies and legislation with regard to animal welfare and care.  At the ground level, this legislation caused the establishment of  an animal police force.  In the years since, this group of 250 officers (many more are trained but do not carry out the function exclusively) has made a tremendous and positive impact on the lives of thousands of animals.

Like a humane society with guns, handcuffs and badges, these officers respond to calls to the animal emergency line – dial 144 from any phone in the Netherlands. On any given day the officers might rescue a sick seal stranded on a beach, call out a fire reel so that a dog left out on a balcony in a storm does not freeze to death, investigate a complaint from neighbours about an animal hoarder, or charge  an owner who has brutally beaten his dog.

Penalties for such cruel, thoughtless actions can include stiff fines (up to $25,000), many hours of community service, a ban from animal ownership and prison terms.  As with so many aspects of police work, however, the officers find that the education that can be carried out in the course of these investigations is of primary importance.  Relationships develop during follow up visits and these often mean that ignorant behaviour can be forestalled.  The work is a mix of animal protection and human social services, finding practical solutions to problems so often the result of ignorance.

Along with the establishment of the animal police force in the Netherlands, legislation known as the Animals Act became law in 2013.  This Act assumes that animals are sentient beings (and not just property which is the case in Canada) and it guarantees animals freedom from thirst, hunger, physical and emotional discomfort, and chronic stress.

There is much to be learned from the experience and the reality of animal welfare support in the Netherlands.  Theirs is an example worthy of being followed here in Canada by legislators and activists across the land.

Sandra Pady, Founder





The Sunshine That Is Platero

February has arrived and with it the sunshine has become more intense. Of course, the donkeys are most satisfied with this change.  They stand as still as statues, bsking in the warm rays, with coats fluffed up. They can stand for hours like this on a bright, cold winter’s day.

For my part, as seems to happen each year at this time while I am admiring the animals in their bliss, my thoughts turn to the verse poem, PLATERO, by Juan Ramon Jimenez.  This enchanting work, written in the early years  of the last century, tells the story of the quiet adventures of a Spanish countryman and his little donkey, Platero.  Although they live in a much milder climate than ours, the opening lines of the first section always bring to my mind the sight of the donkeys in the February  sun.

Platero is a small donkey, a soft, hairy donkey: so soft to the touch that he might be said to be made of cotton, with no bones.  Only the jet mirrors of his eyes are hard like two black crystal scarabs.” 

From the beginning, the poet shares his trust and respect for his equine companion.  With minimal description he brings us into their world, one that is real for them and yet so very, very far from our own today.

“He is as loving and tender as a child, but strong and sturdy as a rock.  When on Sundays I ride him through the lanes in the outskirts of the town, slow-moving countrymen, dressed in their Sunday clean, watch him a while, speculatively: “He is like steel,” they say.  Steel, yes. Steel and moon silver at the same time.”

As I lean against the fence at the paddock’s side, the donkeys and Platero are one.

Sandra Pady, Founder




I wore my down parka, quilted coveralls, angora wool hat, long knitted scarf, and double-thickness donkey mittens for our walk this morning.  As the dogs padded along, the sun was so bright that it made me squint while the only sound to be heard was the crunching of my boots on the snowy lane.

No donkeys were outside during our visit but the mules were standing in two groups, not quite touching, seemingly impervious to the cold.  They are like their horse kin in that regard, preferring the out of doors.

The silence all around prompted meditative thoughts. Memories of the passing year included feelings of satisfaction and gratitude for having been able to help so many animals in need. At the same time  their presence, along with those  of their herd mates, brought comfort and joy to thousands of visitors. People  came and went with a greater appreciation for the fact that animals do matter. All together, the DSC has made a profound impact these past twelve months and we know well that this is  thanks to the combined efforts of donors, staff and volunteers.

It looks like there will be a few more days like this one, when we contemplate the past and then we will turn our minds to the year to come.  May 2018 be a year for us all that is filled with the peacefulness and beauty of the natural world.

Sandra Pady, Founder



Little Pansy died earlier this week.  She was 34 years old and during her 23 years with us she brought much quiet pleasure to countless people.

We brought Pansy (on the left)  and Poppy, mother and daughter, to the DSC in 1995 and I remember my first sight of them very well.  My friend, Virginia  Buchanan-Smith, and I had driven the trailer to pick them up in the Eastern Townships of Quebec where they had lived all of their lives.  Actually, Virginia did the driving; over the years, her skills at the wheel have allowed us to make many donkey-related trips.  The animals’ caregiver was particularly fond of them and she would not have parted with her little donkeys  had it not been for the sale of her farm as a result of divorce.  When we arrived they were standing in a field, close up to Paddington, their almost mammoth-sized donkey companion.  We brought him to the DSC, too.

Pansy and Poppy were inseparable companions and early on they settled into life in our barnyard.  We had placed them in the fields with the larger herd but they were uninterested in other company.  They would slip like lightning through the gates whenever they were opened, and it just became a part of every day to see them standing under the trees in the lane.   Added to their determination was the fact that both little donkeys were amiable and endlessly patient with pats and hugs from visitors and volunteers.

A vivid memory that I am glad to have is of the day when Virginia and I took Pansy and Poppy to Toronto to pass some time with one of our donors who was experiencing the last stage of cancer.  She had great affection for these donkeys and when her husband made the request, we welcomed the opportunity to arrange a final visit.

The woman’s home was located in the north part of the city, on a small lot.  Calmly, Virginia drove the trailer  down the city streets and deftly slipped the vehicle into a double parking place just down from the house.  When Pansy and Poppy trotted down the ramp, Virginia slipped a pink peony into each of their halters.  Then we walked proudly down the street and into the backyard where the pair were welcomed by the woman and her husband.  Virginia and I sat apart on the deck while the little group moved around the lawn, the couple murmuring all the while to the donkeys.  It was a sunny afternoon so they stood under the sprawling  branches of a maple tree in the corner. ( Of course, Pansy and Poppy enjoyed the opportunity to snack on the grass at their feet! ) All together, we passed about half an hour in this way.  Then, the woman started to tire and we sensed that it was time to leave.  Our parting was quiet and filled with emotion.

Over the years, Pansy and Poppy were special ambassadors on many other occasions for the DSC.  They were comfortable riding in the trailer and they became veterans of many Christmas church services.  Then, much to everyone’s sadness, Poppy died in 2011.  We were consoled by the fact that  Pansy was not to be alone, though; little Sable stepped into place and remained at Pansy’s side for many years.  After Sable, Katy, another Miniature, provided companionship.

We were fortunate to be able to spend so long with Pansy.  The air feels emptier these days in the barnyard now that she has left us but  when we think of Pansy we always smile and remember the joy that her presence brought.

Sandra Pady, Founder



During my morning walk with Merlin and Hugo,  today, I went down to the barn and looked out for Huey, a dark chocolate, almost-Mammoth, donkey.  Huey is living in the barnyard with the Oldies these days and so I’ve had the opportunity to get to know him a little better.

( Usually, Hewey  lives with the main group of geldings but a few weeks ago staff noticed that he was limping slightly.  This was a sign of  possible developing laminitis and so right away he was moved to the barnyard where his diet would be hay and straw without the richness of fresh grass.  Whereas most horses get along just fine on  grasses, for some  of our donkeys the sugar content in the fields, even at the end of the grazing season,  is too high. As a result  laminitis can develop in the hooves which in turn makes walking extremely painful.)

Anyway, I have come to look forward to my interactions with Huey.  He is very comfortable with people, a result of the fact that he was treated with affection at his previous lifelong home.  The unexpected death of his caregiver necessitated the family’s appeal that he be admitted to the DSC and he has been with us since 2016.  Next year, he will be 20 years old which will move him into the seniors category for a donkey of his size.

I’ve included this photo so that you can see the area at the base and around his beautiful ears.  He enjoys  to be scratched in those spots.  Whenever  I follow this with a massage inside the length of the ears themselves, he relaxes completely in mild ecstasy.   Always, his contentment conveys  such pleasure.  At times like this, the magic of being in the moment is once again revealed and I am encouraged to go with the flow.

Sandra Pady, Founder






The verb “reconcile” is a portent word. In my copy of The Concise Oxford Dictionary there are five definitions for this verb and when taken all together, they prescribe a course of action:

  1. make friendly after estrangement
  2. purify by special service after profanation or desecration
  3. make acquiescent or contentedly submissive
  4. heal, settle (quarrel, etc.)
  5. harmonize, make compatible, show compatibility of by argument or in practice

As is the case everywhere in our country, after too many years of  horrifying  treatment forced upon our sisters and brothers in First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities, those of us outside these circles are being called to reconcile, to heal sorely strained relations.  In the process, due to our differing world views, we must re-examine our own assumptions about most everything in life.

Here at the DSC we are mandated to give care: care to the animals we take in and care to the land on which our organization sits.  The ongoing welfare of the animals and the land is our primary concern and given this fact, we can never stop thinking about their future.

Indigenous philosophies are all about the future as well.  They charge us to plan for seven generations down the road.  Seven generations.  A long term approach like this one reminds us that we are mere links in a chain that existed long before we arrived and that will carry on long after we are gone.  Instead of owning the land and owning the animals, indigenous communities remind us that we are but their caretakers.  Whatever we do today will echo over decades to come.

In daily life, this philosophical long view is too often ignored.  Demands of the present can seem so urgent regardless of their impact.  To break these habits, we have to remind ourselves on a daily basis that we hold the future in our hands.  Indigenous teachings are particularly helpful in this regard and that is why, earlier this summer, we posted the following statement in our Education Centre.  As well, it is read now at the beginning of our Board Meetings:

We acknowledge that we are conducting this meeting on the current treaty land of the Mississaugas of the New Credit and ancestral territory of First Nations, Inuit and Metis.

We thank them for the use of this land and we are committed to performing our tasks in the best interest of the land, the wildlife that resides on this land, as well as The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada.

These, of course, are but first steps on the road to reconciliation.  They are a beginning, though, and if there is one thing we have learned over the years at the DSC, it is that small steps accumulate.  Healing can take place.

Sandra Pady, Founder



The land where the DSC is located was first settled by Europeans in the 1840’s.  By mid 1860 the original log cabin was replaced by the construction of a lovely stone house that is the centrepiece to this day among the barns, sheds and shelters that dot our 200 acres.

The house is large, 4500 square feet. One half is a residence while the other is now the location of offices and meeting rooms.  All of the day to day administration of the Sanctuary goes on within its walls.  The house serves us well but over the past century and a half its exterior has been pounded by storms and frost. As a result, countless small openings have developed where the roof meets the walls.  These gaps are particularly attractive to animal and insect life. Mice, snakes, birds, raccoons, chipmunks, squirrels, cluster flies: all have found ways to get inside.  There is never an end to the little holes which have to be plugged.

Since they began working in the house,  staff members  have become accustomed to the sudden appearances  of scurrying creatures in the rooms, racing along the floors, hoping not to be seen.  Given that history, people were not  surprised when, earlier this year, bees made their appearance around desks and computers. At first there were only a few bees buzzing around  but when the numbers increased we  realized that something had to be done. Investigations began and up in the attic it was discovered that a very large beehive had evolved  over an unknown period of time.  A beekeeper was called.  Subsequently, thousands of bees were corralled and transported to a more appropriate location. Afterwards, two hundred pounds (!) of honey were removed from the hive.  Problem solved – or so we thought.

In late August, it developed that repairs  had to be done to the house’s old chimneys.  Craftsmen were called but when they arrived to begin work they discovered yet another beehive located inside one of the flues.  Once again, the beekeeper’s help was sought and this time 60,000 (!) bees were moved to another site.  100 pounds of honey were taken out in turn.

These bee ‘excavations’ have been costly and we have come to recognize the obvious, which is that the bees find in our fields much of what they need for making their honey.  Next spring we will install several boxes for beehives at the edge of the fields – but far from visitors, of course.

At this moment, the old house appears to be free from little, unwelcome residents.  However,  colder weather is on the way and so it goes without saying that from inside the walls sounds of scurrying feet and buzzing insects soon will be heard.  Over the course of the winter we expect that sundry creatures will have to be moved from the house; at this point, though, we don’t expect them to be bees.

In our crowded world, accommodation is the order of the day.

Sandra Pady,  Founder