Firstly, I want to say thank you so much for reading my first blog. It has been so wonderful to hear from you and I’m so glad that you enjoyed it!
This month I want to chat to you about one donkey in particular: Marla.
Many of you will know Marla. She has made many appearances on our Facebook page over the last 2 years and she is also particularly loud and sociable, so you can't miss her when you visit! Let’s start at the beginning...
Marla, thankfully, made her way to sanctuary here at Flicka back in the autumn of 2019, along with her daughter, Peaches. We don't know just what they endured before this time but both were destined for the dreaded meat man. Laurie and Judy worked tirelessly liaising with the Pegasus sanctuary in France to coordinate their rescue and tenuous journey to us here in Cornwall. I really wish this was 'it', that this meant she could simply rest and enjoy life… But, unfortunately, it rarely is ever that simple.
Both girls arrived, beautiful yet exhausted. So, what next? Well, there is much we must do with every new rescue; assess their condition, have the farrier, dentist and vet visit them etc. etc. The list goes on and on and on... and one of these days I'll write a piece about this process, but, as I want to talk about Marla today, I must continue - otherwise you will be reading 10+ pages!
So, we start this process and over the next few weeks it becomes clear that Marla has been losing weight for a while (from before her rescue) and upon examination by our (fabulous) equine dentist we discovered she had quite major dental problems. Now, dental surgery is a major feat for any donkey to undergo, Marla hasn't been with us long and she is still settling in, so what do we do? I cannot express how hard it is to make these decisions, to not be able to ask the donkey - we go back and forth, back and forth, exhausting plans of action of how to best tackle problems like this… Do we do surgery now? Do we wait and let her become more settled? It is an impossible question to answer, but it is paramount that we do.
Ultimately, Marla underwent dental surgery in January 2020. This was a huge and risky decision. We had no choice, Marla was in considerable discomfort and, despite our best efforts, had continued to lose weight, struggling every day to simply eat. The surgery went well, with major work completed we now prayed she would cope and eat and frankly live happily ever after. This is not where Marla's story ends... In fact, we've only just begun.
We continued to do everything in our power to lift Marla's spirits, to keep her pain-free, to get her to eat. I cannot tell you how many different concoctions I made to try and tempt her. I would beg her to tell me what she wanted, I'd bring her everything we had (and we have a lot of options!), yet she continued to lose weight. We even x-rayed her jaw to see if there were issues we could not see, but these came back clear. The vet visited countless times, but Marla became dangerously thin and we ended up rushing her to the hospital in the middle of the night in February 2020... Marla underwent multiple tests; bloods, scans etc., as we searched for another reason for her struggles. We found one, and not an easy one to treat, especially in Marla's precarious state - encysted red-worms. I won't dwell on this for now (again, probably something I will come back to in the future).
Marla made it through intensive treatment at the veterinary hospital, but remained dangerously thin. Our vets could do no more for her and decided she should come home - potentially for ‘end of life’- so low were her chances of survival. I don't think any of us truly believed she would still be with us now. We simply wanted to give her a chance; a chance at sanctuary, at peace, at happiness. We never stopped fighting for her, with her, and neither did she. With Peaches by her side throughout everything, Marla continued to fight. Every. Single. Day.
Weeks went by and ever so slowly Marla would eat. We would let her roam the yard at will, this is when she seemed happiest. Marla and Peaches just roaming free, eating grass from the banks… We actually didn't allow the grass banks to be cut, purely so that Marla could wander at will and eat whatever she liked.
Finally, progress. Very very slow progress, but it was progress. At this point, we had fixed the problems of worms and teeth and now we were battling this secondary problem of anorexia. We had to remind Marla she needed to eat, that her body needed sustenance. There was no quick fix, we just took day by day, each day a blessing to spend with her, each day tempting her with a different food - tiny, tiny amounts to start with. We kept wondering: Are we doing the right thing? Is this fair? Will she recover? Are we asking for a miracle? Yes. Yes, we were very much asking for a miracle, as everything was stacked against us, against her. Yet... she kept going, she kept fighting. How could we give up, she hadn't.
Marla kept going, kept eating just a tiny bit more each day. Were we finally winning? It certainly felt like there was a light at the end of the tunnel... Then one morning in July 2020 Marla couldn't breathe. Her lungs were rattling so loud you could hear her from across the yard... How could this be happening? Hadn't she suffered enough?! We rushed her to the veterinary hospital once more, not quite believing she was having to do this again; more invasive tests to find out what could possibly be wrong now... It was asthma. Marla was diagnosed with asthma!
We had a new problem to fight, and we weren't even finished fighting the first one! Marla once again came home to us with new drugs to try and combat this new problem (Peaches in tow, as always). Thankfully, Marla responded to the drugs and we were able to obtain a nebuliser... This has quite literally been a lifesaving piece of medical equipment for Marla and many of our asthmatic donkeys. Simply, it converts liquid medicine into a gas and allows the donkey to breathe in the medicine. This means the medicine goes directly where needed: the lungs. Instead of the more traditional route of oral medication that is ingested and has to make its way through the digestive system before making it into the bloodstream and eventually the lungs, which is far less efficient.
Let’s fast forward to the present day. Marla is a different donkey. We finally know the 'real' Marla because she is finally healthy enough to simply be herself! Marla loves her food… too much actually! Now she's on a diet! Can you believe that? The donkey who could have died 3 times in less than 9 months and was so thin we never thought she would recover, is now on a diet! I repeat, a DIET! That is the power of donkeys, her sheer will and fight to live got her through all of that. Incredible, I still don't always believe it - you look at her now and you would never know what she went through last year.
I cannot tell you how happy it makes me and everyone here to hear Marla yell! Even at 5am when she thinks it is time for breakfast. Also, I feel I should tell you, she most definitely knows where I live and she will come and stand right outside my bedroom window, peer over the fence and bray so loudly to tell me it’s time for breakfast. You can ask anyone that knows me, I am NOT a morning person, but when Marla wakes me up at 5am I can't help but smile, because she's here, she made it.
Marla is also my back up alarm clock! There have been a couple of occasions (that maybe I shouldn't confess to) where I may have accidentally turned the alarm off instead of hit snooze - we've all done it right?! But luckily for me, Marla is there right on cue at 7am telling me it’s time to get up and give her breakfast (because she knows 5am isn't really breakfast, but what's the harm in trying?!) Although, this morning my alarm did not go off and Marla did not yell! Luckily, I did wake up and everyone got their breakfast on time, I suppose even donkeys take a day off every now and then...
Marla truly is a miracle donkey, she is so full of life, of love and she is one strong independent lady!
I want to take this moment to give you a little insight into just how much your support means to us and most importantly them. Marla only survived because of your generosity. Marla's veterinary bills came to approximately £9000. We could not have saved her without you. So, THANK YOU! Seriously THANK YOU! I cannot imagine waking up without Marla braying to me every single day. We cannot do what we do without you and it means so so so much, I honestly cannot express how much it means. You are all truly incredible!
I'm going to say it again, I can't say it enough. THANK YOU from me, from all the staff and from all the 95 donkeys, 19 horses and ponies and 2 mules! (At the time of writing, I can't guarantee this number hasn't changed already, there are sadly always more that need us - and you!)
Donkeys… Where do I start?!
There is so much to tell and, if you’ve ever chatted to me at the sanctuary, you'll know just how much I love to talk about donkeys (and mules)! But, I think, let’s start with talking about the two most common stereotypes of donkeys; that they are stubborn and stoic. Is that really true? Let’s find out...
Donkeys are known for being "stubborn"… but they really are NOT stubborn and I will argue with anyone who says otherwise! Donkeys are incredibly clever and humans often simply don’t understand a donkey and so labels them stubborn because the donkey doesn’t immediately want to do exactly as they say. Let’s think about that for a moment… Do you do something immediately just because you were told to? I hope your answer is no! Well then, why should a donkey? Should they not be allowed to think for themselves? Donkeys are incredible problem solvers - they love to think and figure things out for themselves - they don’t need a human to tell them! Although donkeys are incredible problem solvers, it doesn’t mean their brains work the same way as ours do. A donkey needs time to think, - they see and interact with the world differently than we do and therefore they process things differently. Donkeys simply need to be given time to process the world as they see it... They aren’t stubborn, they are simply thinking!
Donkeys are also known for being incredibly stoic - this, I agree with. Now, if we consider the fact that donkeys are naturally a prey species, this starts to make sense. Many prey species hide illness or weakness in an attempt to fool predators - it’s an important survival technique to pretend you are okay so you are less likely to be singled out by a predator and have time to heal. This means that if a donkey is visibly in pain, they are actually hurting a lot! They will do everything they can to hide their pain, so if it’s bad enough for you to see it, it really, really hurts. This can make caring for donkeys incredibly difficult, as, by the time they visibly show signs of illness, it can already be too late. To know if a donkey is in pain before it is too late, you need to really know the individual. I’ll come back to this in a moment, but, put simply, donkeys are unique and you must know an individual very well to have any hope of spotting pain before it’s too much or too late.
Unfortunately, the stoic nature that is ingrained into donkey DNA, opens them up to a huge amount of cruelty, exploitation and abuse. If they don't visibly show pain until it becomes unbearable, how do you know if their load is too heavy, if their legs are sore, if their backs hurt, if their teeth are sharp and painful, if they are thirsty or if they are just too tired… I could go on, but I think you see my point. Donkeys are abused all over the world and people don’t even realise. We must take time to learn about these incredible animals so that we can care for them properly and educate others, so that donkeys can be donkeys and not spend their lives suffering in pain. Donkeys should not be exploited simply because their stoic nature allows people to take far more from them than they ever should. I’ll repeat myself - spend some time with donkeys and they will show you just how special they are and how much they deserve to live a life of happiness, care and love.
So, let’s talk about the donkey’s true nature. So many people think they are these solemn, stubborn animals that just stand with ears down and a long face, when in reality they are the complete opposite! Donkeys are full of life, full of energy, full of mischief, full of curiosity, full of love, full of compassion and so much more. The reason they are misunderstood is because they are abused, overworked and in often in so much pain, that this is seen as normal. Well, I’d like to tell you this is NOT normal! Every single donkey has a completely unique personality. None are the same, barely even similar actually. The only single word I could use to describe donkeys is "unique" and no other description would come close to doing them justice.
If you stick with me and my blog posts, I hope you will start to understand the true nature of donkeys.
P.S. One more thing I would like to say is that donkeys LOVE to play! Young, old, male, female - it doesn’t matter, they just love to play. I can’t speak for all donkeys, but for Flicka's donkeys the wellington boot is definitely the favourite toy!