Category Archives: Dogs

Cait’s blog

Cait with the young donkeys

It was a pleasure to be part of ‘El Paraiso del Burro.’  The 3 weeks flew by faster than I could have imagined and in that time, I learned a lot about donkeys that I didn’t know, which is basically everything about them. Marleen’s knowledge, the knowledge of the people from the other donkey sanctuary and helping with making a quiz about donkeys for an open day took care of that. I feel like I could start my own sanctuary now!

In my last week two people from a donkey sanctuary in Extremadura came to show us their vision and way of taking care of donkeys in Spain: the kind of food, which donkeys go together well, treatments, bedding, medication and more. I found it so interesting to hear what they did differently and especially why. Sharing ideas can be very inspiring and it makes me look further than my own little world, which is refreshing.

I loved helping with the donkey care and learning about every donkey’s special needs and their characters. This also applies to the other animals such as the horses and dogs. And it’s so nice to see how much effort there is being put in into the care of all of them (even the rats!) 

Next to the animal care, I liked how you could just decide to start your own project. You could just think of something that you thought could use some change, ask Marleen and begin. It could really be anything, like gardening, building things, making art… all to make the place a little more lovely every day. When I heard that the main house wasn’t even there in the beginning, I could not imagine how this place must have looked like years ago and all the changes that have been made. Seeing it develop must have been so cool. 

It’s not only the stories about El Paraiso that I like, but also very much the stories of the people that I met: how they discovered this place, the reasons why they came, what they did before and their plans for the future. Hearing the travel stories from people, all the places they’ve been to and all the things they went through are so inspiring and makes me feel like I can’t wait to create my own adventure. – I really have to write down every new idea because there are almost too many to remember.

During my stay I found out that, for a lot of the volunteers, it wasn’t their first time being here. Marleen must do something right if so many people keep comig back! And I think she does, because to everyone she is very welcoming and there is always a place for someone to stay. In my case it was in the lovely caravan on top of the hill where the donkeys would chill around and sometimes disturb you by scratching against the caravan while you’re trying to have a little siesta!

The hospitality is great and porridge in the morning is my new favourite thing and I am definitely going to try making it at home. Also, 3 times a day a warm meal is so good and was really something I didn’t have to get used to! Although I am not really into cooking and I am not really a good cook, this place makes me excited to try new things and learn to cook properly.  Thank you to those who taught me some new cooking (and baking) stuff. Everyday these lovely meals made by the volunteers or Marleen is a luxury I appreciated so much and maybe even more when I am not there. 

When I look back at my stay, I think I fell a little bit in love with the region ‘Asturias’ with its oh so green mountains and snow on some tops, which make the views so amazing, especially in the mornings when walking the dogs up to the hilltop. One of the first things I thought when I took the bus to ‘Paraiso del Burro’, was that the landscape reminded me of a place, green and massive, where dinosaurs could live, and in my imagination, I could see one appearing right around the corner (which would have been ridiculously cool). And even though that would never happen, luckily there was a donkey called Pancho at the sanctuary who basically makes the same sound as a T-rex!

I am really going to miss this place, the people, the animals and all the experiences. I can’t wait to come back and hopefully see the people I met again – which doesn’t seem that difficult since so many people come back here ;).

‘Till that time, I’ll still have some little straw pieces appearing in random places to keep as souvenirs.

The caravan on the hill (just behind the tree on the left)


First blossoms

Phew! After a very wet February, March has been a lovely month with plenty of warm sunshine which means happy animals, and helpers, enjoying plenty of time out of doors.  The trees are showing signs of new life as buds and blossoms start to appear.  It is always a lovely time of year at the Donkey Paradise.

An update on Frodo

Life at the Donkey Paradise is always a mixture of emotions and often we have to deal with sadness in the midst of joy.  Although we did everything we could for Frodo, his time to leave us had come. The day before he died he went out, well escorted, into the pasture where he grazed happily for two hours. The next day, however, he couldn´t stand anymore and kept falling. His body just gave up, but his spirit never did! Frodo lived with us for five years and was much loved. Behind his grumpiness he had a heart of gold, which shone ever more clearly as he grew older. 

Frodo earlier this year

Our dog project

Two years ago, Marleen took in Nina, a rather young stray dog to join our small group of dogs.  During the first few weeks all went well and harmoniously, but then the fighting started and it became ever more aggressive and ferocious. We then had to keep the dogs apart, tied and on leads, to avoid the fighting, but still the dog situation continued to be unbalanced and tense and Nina even started to attack people. Fortunately, Dutch dog trainer Susan Shui offered help. She came, worked with all the dogs – and Stevie the pig! – and the results are very promising. Before she left, she also instructed some of the volunteers on how to continue the training until she comes back in May. 

Susan and Sara training Maya and Nina by walking past the neighbour´s boxer without reacting to his barking.


Our Mastin Arvo came to us almost 12 years ago, and Marleen finds it difficult to see the big fellow he is now and remember that, as a puppy, he could sit on her hands.  Arvo was operated on twice for cancer and now also has bad hips, therefore he doesn´t move about much anymore.  Nevertheless, three weeks ago he went away during the night and did not come back. We looked for him everywhere, day after day, but without luck. The fifth day he came back emaciated, extremely hungry, dried out and deadly tired. How happy we were to have him back!  Sadly though, he is in a bad state: he has severe anaemia and may not live much longer. 

Volunteers An and Sandra, on their way to the top of the hill opposite the Donkey Paradise last summer, found that Arvo followed them. He reached the top before them, and almost made it back home after walking 12 kilometers! 

Times of Miracle and Wonder? by volunteer Rebecca


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.



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?

Stevie 3


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.

Donkey Art T-shirts

From left to right: Margaret (Ireland), Helma (Holland), Sandra (Madrid), Ria (Holland), Marleen (Asturias), Juanma (Asturias). In the front: Simone (Italy) and Lynn (Asturias).

From left to right: Margaret (Ireland), Helma (Holland), Sandra (Madrid), Ria (Holland), Marleen (Asturias), Juanma (Asturias). In the front: Simone (Italy) and Lynn (Asturias).

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.

Kate’s pictorial memories of El Paraiso del Burro

Many of the volunteers, who come to El Paraíso del Burro to work, enjoy taking photos of the animals and the environment to remind them of their stay.  Such photos often give us a different perspective on life at the refuge and are greatly valued and enjoyed for this reason.  

These beautiful photos have been shared by volunteer Kate who came here in the springtime. Kate was happy for us to share her photos with you and we hope that you will enjoy them as much as we do.

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Dogs running for donkeys………………………….by Marleen


It was the last Sunday of March in Celorio, Llanes, in cold and sometimes rainy weather, when about 50 dog owners and their excited dogs ran the first CANICROSS of eastern Asturias. The couples ran over different distances and one event even involved cycling with a dog. The event was closed after the final run, in which children ran with their pets over a distance of about half a kilometer.

The “Llanes Canicross” was a charity event; the money paid for participation was destined for the donkeys of the Donkey Paradise. For this great initiative and the fantastic result, amounting to 350 Euros, we would like to thank the organisers and the participants – humans and animals – from our hearts!





Thank you to Anuska for taking the photographs.

ALL ABOUT AISHA By Catherina Davis

AISHA, is one of the dogs that i met and spent time with every day during my time at paraiso del burro. When i left the sanctuary after being there for nearly two years the memory and the love i felt for aisha was always with me.Through conversations with Marleen and planning, my friend  Christian and i made the epic journey from Ireland by boat to collect Aisha and it was worth it .

Doggy Pics 482

Thank you Aisha for being in my life. You show me the way and shine the light with your open heart and gentle energy..I will forever love you.

Below is a slideshow of photos from the time we spent in Spain along with other volunteers, our journey by boat with my friend Christian and some photos of AISHA in Ireland.


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Mariano is the farrier that comes to the sanctuary to work on the donkeys, horses and mules hooves.Being physically strong in lifting the donkeys legs,clipping and cleaning their hooves,fitting them with horse shoes for extra support,is one aspect of being a farrier.Being a gentle warm hearted person who puts the animals first and allows them the time to feel comfortable is just some of Mariano,s natural qualities. Thank you Mariano.Here is a slideshow of Mariano at work on the sanctuary.

Happy Animals Happy People 2012 By Catherina Davis

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Below is a slideshow of photos taken during 2012 on Paraiso Del Burro.

paradise for me by cecile van der wilden

My adventure at ‘Paraiso del Burro’ – November 2012
Cecile van der Wilden (Holland)

My adventure at ‘Paraiso del Burro’ started November 2nd, 2012. I stayed for about 3 weeks.
After a day being sucked into city-life in Bilbao, I could hardly wait any longer to arrive at the sanctuary. As soon as I got there, I already felt at home; Marleen had picked me up from the bus station in Arriondas and back ‘home’ I met the other people (Catherina, Jack and Miguel) straight away; I was glad to be able to hear their names under all the barking of 7 dogs..!

I was excited to stay in the caravan. I thought it was a perfect place to get the full experience. The full experience I definitely got: laying under 4 blankets and/or sleeping bags and having a hot water bottle at my feet and sometimes in my arm because it was just so cold during the night at times, and then there is of course the part where you get out of bed in the morning and have to get dressed in the cold, moist caravan… However, how terrible this all might sound, it was definitely worth it!

The first week I really had to get used to things, like filtering the alfalfa and cutting carrots (which I did once, and did not find the most pleasant thing to do, so I just stayed with the alfalfa…haha). Also, in the beginning I had to get used to being around the donkeys. Seeing them kick and bite every once in a while made me pretty cautious and of course you don’t know their personalities yet, so you don’t really know what to expect of each and every one of them. Also I got kicked in the knee by Rayo once, because I just wasn’t careful enough with walking behind him when he was eating (..oops..). But after a week I felt a lot more at ease! I’m glad I don’t have a hard time remembering names in general, but it did take me a while to separate especially Alex, Leo and Nico. But, eventually I knew them all! 🙂 You automatically feel better around the donkeys when you ‘know’ them. My experience with horses hadn’t made me fearless of donkeys haha.

My activities during the afternoon were different every day. It varied from reading a book in front of the caravan with company of Mara or Rayo, or watching a ‘Gilmore Girls’-episode on my phone, to brushing donkeys, trying to train Mara, or baking the famous Catherina-Cecile muffins: banana crumble (either with or without cacao)! 🙂 I also walked Moises and Nuca several times; the first week every morning with Jack and sometimes in the afternoon. I really enjoyed walking them, but also had in mind “if Moises wants to go after something, he’ll go and there’s no stopping him and I’ll be flying behind him…” haha. This only happened once thankfully, when he saw another strange dog coming toward us. I also witnessed a fight between Arvo and Nuca, you don’t want to be in the middle of those teeth! Only Miguel could make them stop by throwing a bucket of water on them. I’m so happy for Moises and Nuca that they will come to Holland and live in a mastín-pack!

As if all the animals and just being at the Paradise wasn’t enough, Catherina and I went to see the ‘Lagos de Covadonga’ in the Picos. This day couldn’t have been more perfect: it was really sunny, there weren’t a lot of people, we had 2 dogs with us and a nice lunch and for me driving up there was just great! Catherina, however, had a different opinion about this… 😉
Other than that, I’ve been to the market in Cangas de Onis with Marleen and Miguel, and of course to Arriondas. Also there was a ‘fiesta de la castaña’ one day in Arriondas! We had a chestnut stand here and a general stand with souvenirs from the sanctuary. This was a fun experience too! We had brought the ‘no toque el burro’-game, but for some reason the Spanish people are scared to death about this thing! Thankfully there were a couple of people how took their chance and played the game either with or without success. We received donations and sold a fair amount of souvenirs! 🙂
The best night was when Christian, Catherina’s Irish friend, came over. We had a bonfire, some tapas and above all, guitar-music. Catherina and Christian had such nice duets and I also enjoyed playing a few songs myself! 🙂

There are few more ‘events’ I just have to mention! To start off, we all got to know a new side of Gazpacho. It seems that even a mule needs to have some alone-time occasionally! One night, we suddenly just couldn’t find Gazpacho anywhere… Usually he follows Mara around like a dog, but now there was no Gazpacho to be seen around the horses or around the paradise territory at all! After a very quit dinner we all were going out to look again in the dark. And yup, there he was, Catherina and I found him grazing with the horses on the hill behind the cabaña, as if nothing had happened! The same thing happened the next day, first he was nowhere to be found and then later, after dinner, he was just being the Mara-follower he is. Then, one day, he was seen walking up the road by himself, so Miguel decided to follow him. Mystery solved: Gazpacho had found a open spot in the fence and walked right into the neighbor’s field to graze! I guess that’s better than what we were fantasizing him doing: going to a bar, cheating on Mara or something! haha.

Another funny event I can’t leave out of this blog is the fashion show Catherina and I held with Lucky Luke! For some reason this idea came up to dress up a donkey with a scarf and some fancy colored socks! The ‘lucky’ one was – of course- Lucky Luke! Catherina put clips in his manes, we put his socks on and a nice scarf around his neck, gosh he looked pretty! haha. I hope we didn’t cause an identity crisis though.

The last main event I want to tell you all is about Frodo. He is the newest donkey at the Paradise. Marleen had received several calls about a donkey standing on the side of a highway in Gijon. Apparently he belongs to gipsy who moves him from one side of the road to the other. The local police had already approved that we would come and get him. So Marleen and I went over there and found him on a very small piece of land, with hardly any edible food, no water of shelter. He did have horseshoes though and he didn’t look thin at all. We took him and now he’s getting to know all the donkeys at the sanctuary while wandering in the yard. Especially Cuca seems to be very interested in him!

I couldn’t leave without having a favorite donkey. Cuca was the chosen one! After brushing Cuca once I was totally in love with her. I love how sweet, calm and gentle she is and how she just loves getting hugs and kisses. Adorable how she calls you when you take a few steps back petting her and how she walks with you when you leave. Also, I have respect for her, living with Sammy, Rayo and Rubio in one stable; a lot of testosterone going on there! haha. I dedicated my recipe in Catherina’s cooking book to her.
I didn’t just have one favorite animal; Lady is such a sweetheart, whereas Moises is so cool and handsome. And then – of course – there is Pepper…, cute little Peppy…, he is just the funniest, cutest, prettiest kitty ever (no offence Ginger and Canela…)! When I first arrived I didn’t have a thing for cats, I’m not a big fan of their claws… But when it was time to leave again I just wanted to hide Pepper in my suitcase! I have to admit, I also enjoyed Roña sneaking into my caravan at times when I was going to bed and that she didn’t want to get out, whatsoever, so I had to grab her and put her inside the house; sorry, I gotta have my good night sleep!

Overall, I really enjoyed being around all the animals, meeting great people and being in the beautiful nature of Asturias. I will definitely come back some day!

Thank you all for a great experience!!