There’s no question that the donkeys, mules and miniature horses at the Primrose Donkey Sanctuary in Roseneath, Ont. are well taken care of. Sheila Burns and her volunteers make the rounds every day to take care of these retired animals, many of which have stories of abuse and neglect.
One afternoon in December, Sheila invited me (along with the rest of Ontario) to attend a Carolling Afternoon with the Donkeys event. It’s one of her biggest fundraisers of the year and essential for doing the work she does. She relies entirely on volunteers and donations, and each were in ready supply that afternoon.
I’d estimate over 100 people turned out for the event, and they milled around, dropping little envelopes of donations in jars, and listening to volunteers tell stories of the animals. And I guarantee each animal has its own lengthy story. Sheila told me many of them, and that’s what makes up this episode.
There’s Philip and his friend Charles who were transferred from a farmer’s trailer to Sheila’s outside a cheese factory in Campbellford. Those two and a few more were on their way to auction, likely to be slaughtered and made into dog food. Both are now spunky little donkeys who make the volunteers giggle and laugh for their antics. On the date of recording, Philip found himself a ball and was doing a little dance with it, to everyone’s delight.
Some of the donkeys have sad stories too, like Joey who was found in an abandoned farmer’s field frozen to the ground after sleeping on snow, melting the frost, then freezing himself in the puddle. Only because a neighbour came across the farmer’s abandoned chickens was someone alerted to the animal’s duress. While Joey was freed from the ice, he lost half of his tail and suffered severe injuries to his legs and belly.
Joey and many other animals are on the path to recovery in Sheila’s care. None of the animals are expected to work — only to heal and play.
This year many more donkeys were headed to auction than could be absorbed by farmers looking to buy. Hay prices were at an all time high due to last summer’s drought. When faced with the question of whether they can afford to keep the animals, many decided they could not. Sheila is almost at capacity in her sanctuary, as is the other Ontario sanctuary in Guelph. Even with the animals being adopted out regularly as pets, too many are being auctioned off.
I feel that I learned a lot from that one afternoon with Sheila and her animals. Not only the struggles to keep the animals cared for and happy, and the pressure to take more in, but also of the enormous compassion she has. And of course, I learned of the many personalities of the animals themselves. It was a lovely afternoon.