The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada, providing care and protection for the long-eared side of the equine family.

Animal lover Sandra Pady may not have originally set out to create a donkey sanctuary. But over the years, her willingness to help animals in need has developed into one of the largest sanctuaries for the “other half” of the equine world in North America.

The long-eared side of the equine family often gets forgotten. But they are in just as much need as many horses — perhaps even more so, since they tend to fill a specific niche that most people are not aware of or interested in.

Donkeys, hinnies and mules, oh my!

Sandra and her husband, David, initially had sheep on their 100-acre farm near Guelph, Ontario. After some issues with coyotes, Sandra learned that donkeys could offer protection to herd animals such as sheep. She agreed to foster three donkeys, named Riley, Bronwyn and Apache, from the Rare Breeds Conservancy. Shortly thereafter, she took on a fourth donkey, Sebastian, who was not receiving appropriate care where he was. That was in 1992, and it marked the beginning of The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada, which now houses 82 donkeys and 9 mules, with an additional 25 donkeys cared for at foster homes.

For those who may not know, long-eared equines include more than donkeys. “We accept donkeys, hinnies and mules that are unwanted, abused or neglected,” says Adam Bowman, Manager of Animal Care and Operations at the DSC. “They mostly come from Ontario, but animals have come from places such as BC, Maine, North Carolina and Arizona, to name a few. The sanctuary provides a lifelong home to the animals. We do have a Foster Farm Program, where animals can go to approved long-term homes. The DSC retains ownership of the animals and organizes annual inspections to ensure the quality of care is maintained to our standards.”

Caring for and maintaining a donkey

Donkeys are much more than pasture ornaments, and get a bit of a bad reputation, perhaps with the way they are often portrayed in the media as sad, stubborn and downtrodden little animals (think Eeyore). However, donkeys can be useful in so many ways, and many people have found them invaluable for helping to protect herd animals such as sheep, goats, cattle and horses. “The donkeys’ calm and gentle nature makes them excellent companion animals, and they can develop strong bonds with other animals and humans,” says Adam. “Our experience tells us that donkeys are nothing like their bad image,” adds Katharin Harkins, Executive Director at the DSC. “They are smart, calm, stoic, and curious.”

Basic care for long-eared equines, including feeding, grooming, veterinary and farrier care, is very similar to that in horses. “However, their nutritional requirements are different, as donkeys have a more efficient digestive system and are therefore prone to obesity, laminitis and other metabolic problems if overfed,” Adam explains. “People should be aware of the investment of time, energy and resources needed to maintain a healthy animal. Donkeys require very similar care and facilities to horses. The average healthy donkey will cost approximately $1,400 annually. The UK Donkey Sanctuary (www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk) is an excellent resource for more information, as is our website (www.thedonkeysanctuary.ca).”

Get involved!

If you’d like to lend a hand to these gentle long-ears, there are many ways you can do so. “Our volunteer program is a great way to directly help at the farm, as are our special events” says Adam. “No previous experience is required, as we provide excellent hands-on training. We host two major fundraisers each year — Donkey Day and PACE for the Donkeys. Donkey Day is a family-friendly event and PACE is a 5km trail walk/run and will take place this year on Sunday, September 25. The DSC is open to the public on Sundays from 10am to 3pm, from May to October, as well as on Wednesdays in July and August. Admission to the farm is by donation, and there are opportunities to sponsor a donkey or purchase a gift in our LongEars Boutique. The foster farm program is currently looking for farms with previous equine experience to provide a long-term home to donkeys.” You can also visit DCS’s website to learn about specific items the donkeys are in need of; if you’re not local, there are other ways to make donations as well. The DSC has been a registered charity since 1992.

The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada works hard to make sure these animals have a soft place to land if needed. Donkeys and mules have been as much a part of history, and of getting humans to where they are today, as horses have. And they’re still used by thousands of families around the world. They may not be considered as glamorous as horses, in developed countries, but they are still quite useful and fun to have around. Let’s not forget these members of the equine family!

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