Category Archives: Donkeys

intelligent and gentle animals

Life at the Donkey Paradise

This honest and personal account was written by a Volunteer at The Donkey Paradise

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« In the larger context of my life so far, coming to The Donkey Paradise was a very good decision. I could call it one of the best, but I’m trying not to sound overly emotional. 

I had been wasting away in a university library for two years when I decided to quit my studies and come here instead. I’m gonna be honest, it’s kinda hard to tell people you’re throwing away a promising future to go and work on a donkey farm. But I felt like that was what I needed to do and I’m fairly sure I was right. The thing is that volunteering isn’t just traveling. It’s sharing people’s lives for a little while. It’s sharing their work and their joys and their troubles as well I suppose. 

Growing up, it was natural to me that I would get a degree, get a well-paying job, buy a house and have kids as quickly and efficiently as possible. As my parents had done and as all my friends’ parents had done. And for a long time I was alright with that idea, it was nice to be certain of what the future held. But the longer I studied, the less I could stand thinking of the future and of spending eight hours a day for a large part of the rest of my days doing a job that I wasn’t remotely passionate about. And I did try to muster up some passion, I really did, but I just didn’t have it in me.

The problem I was faced with then was that I had grown up with limitless hot water from a tap and central heating and shopping as a way to pass time. And I guess I had realized years before that, that material things don’t make me happy – 

But then who was I to declare a thing like that when I had never experienced life without them.

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It is November and the days are warm and beautiful, but at night it gets cold. If the stove isn’t kept lit in the afternoon, then the temperature inside the Cabana is the same as outside. I take one of my sweaters underneath my duvet with me to sleep, so that in the mornings I have something warm to put on underneath another sweater, a hoody and a coat on top. What I’m trying to say is that it’s really goddamn cold and getting out of bed in the mornings is tough. But then we feed the donkeys breakfast and afterwards we gather in the warm, cozy dining/living room of the main house and we have Marleen’s glorious, warm porridge and the sun rises and several times a day we nudge each other and motion towards the view of the Picos and we stand there and take in the beauty of this place. 

I’m trying hard not to romanticise things. There’s more to frugal life than saving money on heating. There’s no Wi-Fi here and we try not to shower more than twice a week and sometimes there are water shortages and we can’t shower for days on end and in my first two nights here I seriously considered leaving. But once you have gotten used to things, and you get used to them very quickly, it becomes second nature and you start enjoying things like sitting in front of a lit stove at night or finally taking that warm shower.

So yeah, sometimes it’s cold and hard but at night, we sit around the table after a well-earned and wonderful homecooked dinner and for hours we do nothing but laugh and laugh about the weirdest things and life is good.

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That’s an expression I’ve heard a couple of times here: “It’s a good life.” And it is.


Paraiso del Burro, 17.11.2018

Sissi Böhm »

 

Photos by:-

Vincent Galiano

 

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Another day in paradise….Camille Moller

Just another day in paradise

I wake up to the sound of my alarm telling me that now is the time to start yet another shiny day. Still feeling sleepy, I stumble out to find a random pair of boots and greet the now so familiar faces of the other volunteers with a smile and a yawnish “good morning.” The air is sharp and our breath turns into white fog as we start the morning routine here at the Donkey Paradise. Everybody knows what to do, so the first feeding of the day is usually a smooth operation. I tick off stable 4 and go to give my furry friends Rocco, Mini-Maggie, Franka, Lola and Xana a round of hay and their everyday morning-scratch. As always, they are waiting impatiently at their gate, giving the impression that they have not had food for at least a week. Each has their own peculiar sound, ranging from Xana’s profound screams to Rocco’s almost asthmatic wheezing. Once fed, the donkeys calm down and the routine proceeds. When all of the donkeys, horses, mules, cats, dogs and pig have had their breakfast, us humans get started with our feast. Rumor has it that Marleen cooks the best porridge in Asturias, and I have found no reason to disagree.

After cleaning the stables out (hopefully without having to throw out too many donkeys trying to steal the fresh straw), we all work on different projects. The projects range from improving stable buildings to taking Stevie the Pig out for a food frenzy under the chestnut tree. Today, I go to the garden in order to battle some of the wheat that tries to take back the stone lane, listening to music meanwhile and letting my mind wander off. I think about how working here does not feel like working at all. It is like living in a bubble surrounded by snow-covered mountains, a place where anything can happen. Waking up to fields covered in mysterious fog and sitting out at nighttime watching shooting stars on the starry sky sets your imagination free. Some days I wouldn’t even be surprised to meet dancing elves in the surrounding forest or see a unicorn stand majestically in the horizon. Here anything seems possible… and, as one of the other volunteers put it, this is not only a shelter for donkeys, it is also a shelter for people. There is room for everyone, as long as they have a kind heart and a gentle approach to animals. In other words, it is a place where you can feel free to be you.

And then, after finishing the day’s work and relaxing in the evening with a glass of wine or a dance instructed by our Polish swing-king, we go out for the last evening round. I stand quiet for a moment, listen to the gentle sounds of the donkeys nibbling their fresh straw and I wonder. I wonder how a place so far from home so quickly can turn into feeling just as safe and beloved. Like coming from one home to another. My usually so ever-restless heart falls quiet for a moment as I draw in a breath of the fresh Asturian air. Then I give my donkey buddies a last goodnight kiss, turn off the lights and start walking towards the warm house. Just another day in donkey paradise has come to its end.

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Photos of Camille with Mia, by Dominic Fleischmann

Times of Miracle and Wonder? by volunteer Rebecca

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Rebecca in the front, on a donkey walk.

The week before I left Donkey Paradise in July I thought about writing a blog. While I walked Jack during siesta time I thought about how great it had been to be able to stay for almost a year at this lovely place.

I remember my first week at El Paraiso well: learning the names of all the volunteers was one thing…learning the names of the donkeys seemed impossible, or maybe not; learning their names was hard, but to tell them apart, especially when they were out and about in the field, seemed an impossible task. They all looked so alike:  greyish or brownish with four legs and long ears. Now it sounds strange to me that I ever thought they looked the same, for they do not look like the same at all….except for, thank heavens, those four legs and long ears. More than 50 shades of grey, endless tones of brown, furry, bold spots, curly, smooth, freckles, skinny, fat and fattest, sad theatrical eyes like Sophia Loren, stern looking eyes, rigid ears or flexible ears that move like an owls head….the differences are countless and make each one of them unique. And yet I haven’t yet written about their character or the sound they make.

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Jack

I was walking Jack that day and he was listening so well:  off the lead, walking behind me and when I stopped, he would stop and when I told him go run and whistled for him not much later, he would go run and return straightaway on my call. What a wonderful difference from the black, unruly dog of months ago. Would the volunteers that were here that first week believe their own eyes?

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Alfredo

While thinking that I should write to Marian for example, how well this dog was walking, I should write Avital as well, about dear stubborn Alfredo, who never wanted to leave the yard in the morning. Avital tried everything…from singing lovely Disney songs, walking him in circles through the yard or to pushing his bum gently, nothing would work. Nowadays he’s one of the easier donkeys to start walking…no singing needed. He will finish his bowl of extra food (mostly without the ears flat in the back and mostly without kicking) and then when you’re bringing either Flora or Charlotte to the field he will walk with you – just like that. I could write that to her. A miracle?

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Stevie

Also, maybe I should write to Claude about Stevie….about the fact that she’s far to big now to swoop up from the floor and carry in your arms (as we did once to weigh her; 20 kilos of screaming pig – not so easy). Or write him that we don’t have to put her, (while screaming her head off) on a ‘harness’ anymore in order to take her to her outside house in the morning. If we unlock the gate of her stable now, she will push her nose against the gate, open it and make her way up the hill while we follow her. Some days, I have to be honest, she will take a D-tour to the apple trees or to the far end of the field, but with a bit of guidance and some bribing (chopped up carrots will do the trick) she will go in. And in the evening we just open the gate from the outside area and there she goes…straight home to where her food is waiting for her. She’s such a lovely and smart creature and, besides that, she made some non-vegetarian, meat-loving volunteers here become vegetarian, which I think is great.

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Finn

In the same stable as Stevie there is small horse Finn, a black Asturian beauty. Those who met Finn last year might remember him as a scared and scary horse…he would turn his bum to you if you entered the stable, eyeballing you and more than once he cornered me. With the love, patience and care of Marleen and so many volunteers, he’s now a cuddly boy. Although he might still sometimes show you his fierce self (which I really love about him), he is mostly the new softy…waiting at the stable door to be scratched on the neck and pushing his nose against your arm if you stop. He walks quite well on a halter now and it’s even possible to do his hooves (here too I have to be honest….he’s still not easy, but such a change) and I am so happy to have been there long enough to witness his change and that of so many others….both of animals and volunteers.

At El Paraiso the animals get love, care and attention; here they learn to trust humans again and, some volunteers who hadn’t been in touch with animals for a long time and kind of “lost touch with nature” as they called it themselves, have clearly found that touch again or discovered a whole new positive side of themselves, by working with the donkeys at the Donkey Paradise, or with the people.

And while I was walking Jack in July, up and down the hills behind the house for the last time, (he too was moving on too, being adopted by a young German volunteer) I thought about these things: about the animals, the many inspirational volunteers and the changes that I witnessed in the animals, the other volunteers, me, and the nature around me; magical, wonderful and, at the same time, plain and simple and so natural. I loved every minute of my time there and will be back one day, for a few days…or maybe longer.

Farewell to an old friend “Kees: In loving memory”

Your time was up, fig-belly Kees

So slowly you went on your way.

From Paradise to heaven is only one step

But you took your time to go

Losing weight

Losing strength

Losing your appetite

Your sense of adventure

And your urge to escape and discover.

Your time was up, my dear friend Kees

So softly, softly you went where you were called.

Thank you for having been with us for so long

For being such a good friend

Leaving us with the pictures of your past

And with many sweet memories of you.

 

Marleen

More about Stevie

Stevie, the cute little pig who recently came to live at the Donkey Paradise, now has a wonderful outdoor pen, built by the volunteers, in which she can snuffle about, feel the fresh air on her skin and enjoy her new freedom.

Before she came to the Donkey Paradise, Stevie only had a small, dark, interior space as her home.  When she first went out into her new enclosure she was very afraid and squealed “like a pig” all the way.  She wears a halter to walk to her pen and then, at night, she returns to her indoor shelter.  She still squeals whenever she has to go out, but now it is happening less and less as she learns to adapt and enjoy her new environment.

 

 

Photos:  Rebecca

Stevie……………by Barnaby Haszard Morris, a Volunteer

A very cute little pig. Photo - Wim (volunteer)

A very cute little pig.
Photo – Wim (volunteer)

Stevie the pig lived in the stable next to Bella our new resident horse (see earlier blog) and, If Bella’s conditions were squalid, Stevie’s were appalling: a tiny, three-metres-by-one-metre space, never cleaned, no water, no light. At least Bella got to go outside sometimes. Stevie was stuck in her cage and more or less forgotten.

A couple of days after Bella arrived at Donkey Paradise, a space was prepared for Stevie in Stable Zero and she was brought to the sanctuary.   Marleen’s old dog Jolly normally occupies the back seat in her Pajero, but this day, her bushy black-and-white tail was displaced by the constantly wagging little tail of Stevie, who oinked all the way from Arriondas.  In fact, Stevie oinks almost all of the time, whether she’s being fed or watered or left alone. The only time she stops is when she’s picked up. This prompts the most terrible squealing, as if she were about to be killed. Once we got her into her half of Stable Zero and set her down on the bed of straw, the squealing stopped and the happy oinks returned.

A new arrival always prompts interesting responses from the established creatures. Stevie has particularly drawn the attention of the Donkey Paradise dogs, who often scurry up to her gate to sniff or bark. (Whether or not they want to eat her or are simply curious remains in question.) Unfortunately, Stevie’s stablemates Elfie and Finn – a mule and an Asturian horse – are not so thrilled about the new arrival. When Stevie was brought in, they immediately retreated to the far side of the stable, where they stayed until the following morning. Getting them out into the fields in the morning or into the stable in the evening used to take five minutes; now it takes half an hour. Sometimes, it’s not the new arrivals that need to be managed more carefully but the animals who already here and have to adjust to a different routine.

It’s still early days, but Stevie’s transition appears to have gone very well. Volunteer Tara has worked with Marleen on getting her feeding regimen right, and volunteer Ille is preparing a mud bath to go in Stevie’s quarters. Then she will be able to cover herself in mucky, stinky, piggy glory.

Barnaby Haszard Morris
http://twitter.com/barnabyhm
http://about.me/barnabyhm

Bella…………by Barnaby Haszard Morris (a Volunteer)

The two most recent four-legged arrivals at Donkey Paradise are Bella, a big brown horse, and Stevie, a wee black pig. Both came from the same place near to Arriondas.

Marleen heard about Bella first. Her owner called to say the beautiful old horse of his childhood was going blind; could Marleen do something about her eyesight, or maybe even take her to Donkey Paradise? She was, after all, the beautiful old horse of his childhood, and it would break his heart to have to take her to the slaughterhouse.

Marleen arranged for a vet specialising in eye treatment to examine Bella. The vet said that with antibiotic eyedrops, one eye could be completely saved and the other partially restored. Bella would not go blind after all.

I went with Marleen to give Bella her first eyedrop treatment, and there I saw what squalor she was living in. Bella is a large horse, as large as any of the animals at Donkey Paradise, but her stable was just a few times larger than she was. She had no water to drink, and the floor of her stable was filthy. Her brown-and-white hair was terribly knotted all over and covered in sticky burrs. I expected a horse living in such unpleasant conditions to react badly to strangers. However, Bella took her first eyedrops without any fuss. She also drained an entire bucket of water, poor thirsty girl.

Marleen continued to visit Bella morning and evening for the next week and a half, administering eyedrops and a little food and water. Bella responded very quickly to treatment. Within a few days she started to come to Marleen as soon as she arrived (thankfully the weather was fine so Bella could be out in the field rather than in her stable), and she continued to take the eyedrops willingly. Soon she would be ready to come to Donkey Paradise.

The transition of a new animal into life at Donkey Paradise is never guaranteed to go well. Often, they are animals who have been abused or neglected, and they sometimes find the transition very stressful. So, when Bella arrived in a big white truck, we all watched to see how she would act once released into her new home.

Bella with volunteer, Tara.

Bella with volunteer, Tara.

Thankfully, Bella quickly identified a patch of green grass in front of the house and began grazing on it. She seemed calm and curious. She went peacefully to her new quarters – the Perrera, a fenced-off area within the main paddock – and ate fresh oat straw from her large trough. That night, the two white horses that roam free in the main paddock, Kari and Mara, trotted over to the Perrera and got acquainted with their new equine compatriot. They haven’t had a chance to spend any time roaming together yet, but they will in time. Maybe they’ll be friends?

With food, medication, and shelter established, there was one more matter to take care of to improve Bella’s quality of life: her knotty hair. Volunteer Marieke took on the task of brushing Bella all over, and an hour and a half later, Bella was restored to good condition. She is perhaps cleaner than she has been in decades.

Now Bella is allowed to wander the main paddock during the day, grazing at the acres of fresh grass and chomping the occasional fallen apple. So far, her presence has not disturbed the donkeys of Stable One and Stable Four, who are accustomed to having the main paddock to themselves. In fact, venerable old Alfredo appears to have taken a shine to Bella. Normally, Alfredo skulks around the stables, or restricts himself to the area right in front of the house. Now, he can often be seen plodding behind Bella and grazing where she grazes, even if it’s out of our sight.

Bella is settling in.

Bella is settling in.

Bella with Alfredo

Bella with Alfredo

Marleen says that before Alfredo was rescued, he lived in close quarters with a horse. So it might be that Bella has not only gained a new lease of life at Donkey Paradise, but she may also have brought renewed vigour to Alfredo, who can once again have a horse for a friend.

Barnaby Haszard Morris
http://twitter.com/barnabyhm
http://about.me/barnabyhm

Franka………………by Lonneke, a volunteer from Holland

I will never forget the early morning of the 4th of August 2015. Marleen went into stable 4 to do the morning feeding. Stable 4 is the home of mother and daughter Burri and Burribu, the ‘evil sisters’ Eyore and Fiona, and pregnant Xana. As the ladies were quite wild, I followed right behind Marleen to help her. Then I saw the expression on her face… Marleen looked like she just saw a ghost. Her jaw dropped, she held her breath and pointed. ‘Look!’ she said.

And there, in the middle of the stable, stood a little miracle: a brand new, fluffy, furry, perfect baby donkey. Everything about her was perfect. Her beautiful long ears, her cute white nose, her wobbly legs, her curved little hooves, her big bright eyes. She was clean, she was standing and her mother looked like she had no idea what all the fuss was about. We had tried to prepare ourselves. Marleen had informed the vet; we had a little stable where Xana could deliver; co-volunteer Tom had checked Xana every day for signs of an upcoming birth… and then Xana went her own way and gave us the biggest surprise the next morning.

Proud mum Xana with her little daughter.

Proud mum Xana with her little daughter.

Franka – named after the Dutch volunteer couple Frank and Helma – is two weeks old now and seems in perfect health. She jumps and runs around in the field, got acquainted with many aunts and uncles and looks exactly like her mother. Xana is in fact a teenage mom. She got pregnant when she was only one year old. She was meant to have babies every year until she would be worn out and ready for the butcher. Marleen rescued her in October last year, a shy and scared young donkey. And look at her now! She behaves like a perfect mother to Franka and the future of mother and daughter looks bright. Franka, our little miracle, born in a donkey’s paradise!

Franka is enjoying her freedom.

Franka is enjoying her freedom.

Elfie and Willem introduce themselves

The two new inhabitants of the Donkey Paradise want to present themselves to you, so here they are:

Elfie having a tasty snack

Elfie having a tasty snack


Marleen welcomes Elfie to the Paraiso

Marleen welcomes Elfie to the Paraiso


“Hello there! My name is Elfie, and I have been a working mule all my life. Now I am so old, that both my previous owner and me have lost count of the years! I was bought free by one of the volunteers of this paradise, and she also gave me my name. I like it – so far I they only called me ‘mule’ (‘mula’ in Spanish) and it’s nice to have a real name now. I live in a little house now. I used to live outside and I still have a bad cold and that’s why I am now wearing a warm cover during the nights.”

Noble Willem

Noble Willem


A nice warm coat to keep Willem warm

A nice warm coat to keep Willem warm

“I am Willem and I like Elfie but she doesn’t like me. And, even worse, the people here will not let me near the other donkeys until I’ve had an operation … Just my luck!! But then maybe that is not as bad as going to the slaughter, so I will not complain too much. Hopefully I will be able to join the lovely lady donkeys afterwards.”

Luis’s Caring for Rosie Challenge

Luis and Marleen with Rosie

Luis and Marleen with Rosie

This year Luis, a great friend of the donkeys at El Paraiso del Burro (The Donkey Paradise), is undertaking three tough challenges to raise £1000 for Rosie, a donkey at our refuge.

Rosie first came to us in 2012 after a neighbour of her previous owner contacted Marleen to say that Rosie was going to be euthanised as the owner no longer had a use for her.  Rosie was around 25 years of age, in poor health and with severe hoof problems which meant she had great difficultly in walking.  Despite all her problems, Rosie is a very adorable donkey with a sweet nature.  She has settled into the refuge well and has received a great deal of continuing care for her health and hoof problems.  The farrier fitted Rosie with specially adapted “heels” to correct her posture and strengthen her legs.

Each donkey at the refuge costs about £500 per year to be fed and cared for.  Many need regular veterinary care and all of the donkeys need hoof care regularly.  By undertaking three challenges, Luis aims to raise enough money to cover the cost of Rosie’s care for two years.  This Spring he will cycle to the mountain lakes in the Picos de Europa mountains, a tough 100km ride up steep terrain; he will walk a tough 50km mountain hike and he will also cycle 160km in one day along the canal of Castille.

Luis would welcome all the support he can get in order to complete his challenges and his goal of raising £1000 for Rosie.

Please support him via the link below:

http://www.gofundme.com/CaringforRosie

Rosie when she first arrived.

Rosie when she first arrived.

Rosie on high heels

Rosie on high heels

Rosie with one new shoe

Rosie with one new shoe