The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada (DSC)
I arrive at The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada (DSC) near Puslinch Lake in Guelph, Ontario on a gorgeous May day. The 100 acre farm looks beautiful with safe fencing, lush meadows, nature trails and a small, sparkling lake. Groups of donkeys could be seen grazing quietly. Tour groups are roaming the grounds, meeting the donkeys and having picnics by the lake. I emerge from my car to the sounds of happy braying from the farm’s inhabitants.
The Padys, Sandra and husband David, own the farm where the Donkey Sanctuary is located, saw the first donkeys arrive in 1991. Since childhood, Sandra has been interested in animal welfare. When the Padys left central Toronto for the farm near Guelph, they leased some land to a neighbour for his sheep. Sadly, the Padys’ young dog killed a lamb one day. A friend, Jy Chiperzak, told the distraught couple that having a donkey in with sheep provides a natural protector. Chiperzak, the founder of the Rare Breeds Conservancy, offered to let the Padys foster three of the Conservancy’s donkeys.
Sandra Pady bonded immediately with her new arrivals. A short time after, she heard of a donkey who, having proved useless as a guardian for a goat herd, had been abandoned and confined to a stall. The donkey, Sebastian, became the Sanctuary’s first rescue. Twelve more donkeys, destined for the slaughterhouse, soon joined Sebastian at the farm. The decision to take the group in came easily to Pady but with sixteen donkeys now on the property, she felt a little more information and guidance would not go amiss.
Pady contacted Dr. Elizabeth Svendsen, founder of the Donkey Sanctuary in Great Britain – the world’s largest – information on starting a sanctuary in Canada. Dr. Svendsen was able to provide further details on maintenance, nutrition, rules, regulations, administration, fostering and more. In 1998, Pady spent five days visiting the sanctuary in Sidmouth, Devon, where a staggering 8900 donkeys have passed through since the late 1960s. In 1992, The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada became a registered, not-for-profit charity.
Almost 100 donkeys have passed through the DSC gates. Donkeys, mules (donkey sire, horse dam) and hinnies (horse sire, donkey dam) are all welcome. They have come from Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, British Columbia and even West Virginia. Some come from homes where the owners just couldn’t care for the donkey any further, some have been neglected, others come via the Humane Society. Many arrive needing to gain weight and have some blacksmith work done. Their worst case of late was Trooper, a donkey who couldn’t walk and had to be carried off the trailer. Trooper had foundered on all four feet. With patience and a lot of hard work from blacksmith and corrective shoes, Trooper is now walking soundly and doing very well. He roams free in the barnyard, greeting visitors and happily accepting their attention with a bright expression.
With her population growing, Pady realized that fundraising would be a necessity if she was going to be able to help donkeys properly. On average it costs $800 annually to care for a donkey. In the early 1990s she began holding Donkey Day in June as a major fundraiser. The admission charge is $7.00 per adult and $4.00 per school-aged child. There are singers, dancers, storytellers, food, raffles, demonstrations and pony rides. From May 1 to Thanksgiving, the sanctuary is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays. There is no admission charge, but visitors are asked to make a donation in support or to visit the Long Ears Boutique, which sells a variety of items bearing donkey graphics. There are also tours organized for school groups, special needs students, and seniors from across southwestern Ontario. Over 5000 people come to the Sanctuary each year with 2000 of those attending Donkey Day.
People can help support the Sanctuary in a variety of ways. Cash donations of any amount are gratefully accepted and a tax receipt will be issued. Rehabilitated donkeys are also fostered out (the Sanctuary does not buy, sell or breed donkeys) to suitable adoptive homes. Donkeys, especially the miniatures, can live well into their 40s and are good with children. They are gentle creatures and respond to kindness and patience. The Sanctuary sends the donkeys to foster homes in pairs, as they are more settled with their own kind rather then mixed in with ponies and horses, who may bully them. There are murals painted on the walls of the barn, whimsically thanking sponsors for donations of blankets, stall mats, buckets, carrots and more. Park benches are scattered around the farm’s many nature trails. Many of the benches have engraved donor plaques. Volunteers, of course, are always welcome.
The majority of animals on the farm are donkeys, with a small herd of mules. The mules, many of which came from abusive situations, are kept in a separate, more private pasture. One mule however, named Macho, is very friendly and adventuresome. He lives in the stable yard but, if he wants to explore other areas, simply jumps the post and rail fences. Macho is smart and selective though, never jumping for “freedom” or anywhere near the farm lane.
The staff is small and very hands-on. The day I arrived Pady herself was maneuvering a fork and wheelbarrow, tidying the barnyard where the older, quieter donkeys roam loose. In summer of 2003, University of Guelph student Abbey Hertel worked at the Sanctuary. She was later hired as a permanent part-time Animal Caretaker. Hertel, along with a new summer student and a group of tireless volunteers, care for the residents.
My day at the sanctuary was a lovely one and the hours flew by. After taking a walk on one of the nature trails, I settled on a bench by the lake. Watching a group of thirty long eared donkeys graze serenely, I felt thankful that there were people like Sandra Pady to take care of these charming, gentle creatures.
Care of a Donkey
• 2 donkeys can live on 1 acre of land with good, safe fencing and a shelter; donkeys’ coats are not waterproof like a horse, so they do require some protection from the elements
• donkeys eat mostly grass, hay, and barley or oat straw; older donkeys may need very small quantities of grain to keep to their ideal weight; fresh cool water should always be accessible
• donkeys can live into their 40s, so the commitment to an owner and/or a foster home is a serious one
• fit, healthy donkeys can do light work or be ridden from 4 to 25 years of age
• donkeys prefer having a friend of their own kind and will form lifelong friendships; if separated, the donkeys can become dangerously stressed
• like horses, donkeys need to be wormed regularly and have their hooves trimmed every six to eight weeks
Links for more information on donkeys