Donkeys Philip and Andrew

Episode 4: The one with all the donkeys

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.

The Donkeys

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.


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Episode 2: Happy birthday, Grandma

12513699_10156742134560300_1150008082786654220_oOn Saturday October 22, 2016, my family gathered in Sudbury, Ont. We were celebrating the 90th birthday of my lovely grandmother, Margaret. Over 100 people congregated in the church basement that day: a mix of my grandma’s family, extended family, old friends, new friends… people who were mostly strangers to me.

Ahead of time, I decided that as a birthday gift for my grandma, I would make a little radio program about her. And while it went against my usual behaviour at family functions, I actually talked to people I didn’t know. Shocking business! I recorded these interviews and used them to make this episode.

Over the course of the interviews I noticed several patterns. Often, her friends and cousins would call her Maggie, which is a name I’d never associated with her; it was a glimpse into a side of her that I’d never known. Second, many people struggled at first to recount a story in which she took a major role. Instead, party-goers tended to speak about the way she supported others and quietly facilitated things. The other common thread of the interviews was a mention of her grace, kindness, and love.

After the party ended, I interviewed my grandma’s daughters: my mom and aunts. Their perspectives on their mother was an interesting reflection of their personalities and aspirations for themselves. They singled out certain qualities in my grandma that they each admire. I was struck by how they felt they fall short.

For me, I echo the others. I love and admire my grandmother. She taught me how to make blueberry pie. In those memories, she embodies infinite patience and love. I hold pie as a formative experience from the childhood summers spent at her home in Sudbury.

In more recent years, I noticed her subtlety and kindness. There were moments in recent years when I chose to suffer and be sad silently, she was one of a very few who picked up on it, and offered kindness.


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The music in this episode of Sounds Like Life is courtesy of Montreal-based band, We Were Towers.