Category Archives: Donkey charity
Registered with the Principado de Asturias
This honest and personal account was written by a Volunteer at The Donkey Paradise
« 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.
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.
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 »
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.
Photos of Camille with Mia, by Dominic Fleischmann
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
The two new inhabitants of the Donkey Paradise want to present themselves to you, so here they are:
“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.”
“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.”
Thursday 19th February.
‘Amazing’is the honoury cap that fits our departed furry friend Alex who lost his life battle today: his spirit still willing but body so weak.
His time to go to Donkey Heaven. He fought each day as if it was his last.
Tobias (or Toby), his much younger faithful companion, was always near his side braying loud and furiously if the old fella was stuck and couldn’t get up unaided.
Alex was handsome, chestnut brown, with distinguished white spots; he often held his head low but walked tall with a lean frame and straight legs housing small, short hooves. He arrived at Donkey Paradise 7 years ago, his previous life unknown, but soon became the old gentleman in the stable with no malice, kicks or bites. His loves included: morning Porridge which he willing shared with Toby, grazing and roaming the highest terrain in paradise whilst taking pride he always knew the best ways down, being cuddled and groomed and having a full belly.
Toby knew Alex’s moods so well, how he was feeling, how much energy he held. If the old man stayed in the stable too long Toby would come back for him, and nudge him to ‘come on mate – it’s nice outside, let’s go and eat grass.’
Two days Alex battled, we turned him, held him, placed him, covered him, gave him pain relief and showed him how much he was loved. He slipped away slowly and peacefully, with donkey’s circling him and his faithful mate Toby and people who cared by his side.
RIP ‘Amazing Alex’ xx
The majority of the donkeys we welcome to El Paraiso del Burro have problems with their hooves, many of which are severe, as they have never been seen by a farrier before. Donkeys naturally live in dry, stony conditions and are not used to the damp atmosphere and green pastures of Asturias. Their feet absorb more water than a horse’s hoof and they are prone to Laminitis and to wounds and infections of the foot. It is therefore important to check the hooves of the donkeys on a regular basis in order to be able to act quickly to stop infection from spreading and to keep the hoof as clean as possible.
The donkeys at El Paraiso del Burro are seen by a farrier four times a year and, in between, we check and clean the hooves of all the donkeys. Frieda has some severe problems due to poor care in her past. Here we can see Frieda’s foot being cleaned by Simone to remove dirt and stones; the foot is then washed with sterile water, a “frog” antiseptic is used to prevent the spread of any infection and Simone then covers her foot with a pad to help support her legs and to keep her feet clean during the day. At night, when Frieda returns to the clean, dry stable, her pads are removed so that the air can circulate around the foot.
Frieda is a good donkey. She is used to standing quite still whilst her feet are cleaned. At first she is not too keen to walk on her “pads” but very quickly she adapts and seems to walk better as the foot is less sore.
The t-shirts we now have for sale to visitors of the donkey sanctuary are a great success. In less than a month we have already sold out some of the models and colours! In the photo the volunteers at our August Open Day are wearing some of the models. The print was designed by Lidia Fanjul, a young Asturian artist who gives art workshops.
Last week, a well-loved donkey, Norbert, passed away naturally of old-age. Everyone loved Norbert. He was the gentle giant and we will miss him dearly as he has lived at the Paraiso practically since the beginning when Marleen had only a few donkeys. Norbert was very old, as are most of the donkeys here, but up until the end he enjoyed his food and he liked to go outside in the fresh air for a few hours each day. He had great patience and a calm manner. His great friend was Jelle and they were always together until Jelle died a few years ago now. In memory of Norbert, of Jelle, and of all the donkeys who have been with us for a while but sadly are no longer with us, here are some photos of various corners of the Donkey Paradise that they will have passed by over the years.