The Localist

The Donkey Sanctuary – a place to call their own

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Ever wonder where donkeys who have been abused, neglected or can no longer be cared for by their aging owners find refuge?  If you’re like me, the thought has probably never crossed your mind, for fairly obvious reasons.  Talk of animal shelters and rescue is usually reserved for the cute, cuddly variety, or those grand, majestic creatures in the wild.  Donkeys on the other hand are the oft forgotten animals, objects of ridicule worked hard for most of their lives only to be neglected, abandoned or sent to the slaughterhouse when no longer needed.  But some are lucky enough to be rescued, and they end up at The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada (DSC).

For over 17 years, this not-for-profit organization has been providing equines (donkeys, mules and hinnies) with a safe haven to spend their remaining days in peace and comfort.  Situated on a 100 acre farm of rolling hills and woodland trails, DSC is an hour’s drive outside of Toronto in the city of Guelph and currently home to over 60 equines.

A working farm for most of the year, it’s open to the public from early May to late October for two days of the week.  Admission is pay-what-you-can, though a reasonable price is at least $10 for adults and $5 for children.

After months of anticipation, my chance to visit this unique place finally came this summer.  Driving there however was no small feat as we had to navigate through unfamiliar country roads.  Fortunately, my partner lived in Guelph for several years, so we managed to reach our destination without getting lost.

Upon arrival we were directed to the Visitor Centre/Gift Shop where one of the many friendly and knowledgeable volunteers gave us a safety talk.  Apparently, the donkeys’ ears give you cues as to whether they are enjoying your company or want you to scram.  It’s also best to move towards them from the side, and definitely steer clear of approaching from behind unless you want a new chest cavity made from their powerful kicks.

Once through the door of the Visitor Centre, we found ourselves out in the pastures.  There are some fenced-in enclosures and barns, where a few of the more social animals sauntered over to the fence to have their heads, ears or rumps stroked.  Just a few steps away stands the Donkey Gallery where profiles of the donkeys are plastered on the walls.  Visitors who wish to extend their involvement with these gentle beasts can choose to help care for their favourite donkey through sponsorship for as little as $50/year.  In turn, the sponsor receives a package containing a profile, photo and certificate of sponsorship, as well as yearly updates on the animal’s well-being.  Looking at their adorable faces and reading their heartbreaking stories of neglect and abuse made it extremely difficult to walk out of that building.

Also on the premise is an interactive Learning Centre.  Here visitors learn of the best food for donkeys, how to treat abscessed hooves and proper grooming practices.  If left untrimmed, hooves will grow too long, making walking painful and difficult.  Donkey talks are also held three times a day to introduce people to the work of the sanctuary and shed light on the hardship the animals have endured.

Visitors who build up enough comfort and courage around these animals can head over to another section for a chance to walk amongst the donkeys.  A few benches are strewn about for people to sit, and occasionally a donkey might mosey over to a lucky visitor to make their acquaintance.  It was nice to be able to interact and pet the donkeys without the fence separating us.  It further demonstrated to me the gentle and curious nature of these creatures.

So the next time someone makes a reference to you looking or acting like a “jackass”, don’t be quick to take offence.  Politely thank this individual and point out that from what you know of these creatures, you should be so lucky.

For further information about the DSC, visit its website: http://www.thedonkeysanctuary.ca

MEET THE LOCAL: KRISTINE BERNABE

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