Just two months ago, Bella, a large, scared, sick mare, was rescued from neglect. She was under-nourished, nervous, nearly blind and lacking care in her sad, sick, state. Good fortune finally found Bella, when she was taken in by Marleen to sanctuary at Donkey Paradise where love and care awaited. She was given her own stable, clean water, nourishing food, good grazing, veterinary care and the human kindness she deserved. Although she remained aloof to other animals, preferring to graze alone, slowly she built her trust back in humans to allow the care she desperately needed. Simone devotedly treated her hoofs and suppurating wounds: regularly and lovingly cleaning, treating, dressing and binding. Her big brown eyes, clouded with cataracts and weepy, were gently washed.
This week the hard decision came as she lay down unable to rise one morning: Bella’s once strong body now so frail. The time was now due to relieve her from anymore suffering. She was put to sleep with Simone by her side, and slipped away peacefully at Donkey Paradise.
Animals are amongst life’s great teachers – Bella’s lessons included courage, gentleness and the willingness to trust again. Whilst here in sanctuary at Donkey Paradise, we trust Bella felt compassion and unconditional love in return, if only for a brief period, in the last chapter of her life. RIP ‘Brave Bella’
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once upon a time there was in the Donkey Paradise a much beloved volunteer. He, a traveler, had seen a lot of places in the world and now wanted to settle down and learn to grow his own food. Around the cabaña in the valley he created his own small paradise. Miche -Michael – left after a stay of 2 years. He and Maria now have their own family.
In case you wonder where the name of our new donkey ‘Miche’ came from: now you know, he was named after our volunteer with that name. Donkey Miche came from Gijon, where he had lived alone and without a shelter in a plot of land near the harbour for over 15 years. He is not really used to people or other donkeys. He wants to make friends but doesn’t really know how to go about it.
After his castration he will be able to live together with lots of other donkeys; he will be able to socialize and gain the skills needed to make friends and he will be well cared for.
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.
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!
The good summer weather has meant that the many volunteers who have stayed here have been working mainly on outdoor tasks and their efforts have made a great difference to the environment here.
In general the volunteers’ day starts with breakfast and animal care, in particular the cleaning of the stables, feeding the animals and providing them with clean water. Later, there is time for the volunteers to work on particular tasks and projects or certain aspects of animal care such as helping the farrier, cleaning the donkeys’ eyes and ears, grooming the donkeys or walking the dogs.
There are also projects within the grounds and this year some volunteers have been continuing with the pruning of old wood from the many apple trees or clearing and reorganizing the vegetable garden which has been greatly improved by a lot of hard work as you can see from the photo below.
The biggest project this summer has been the digging out of a small pond above the main Lily Pond to provide an area for quiet meditation. The excess water from the small pond will drain down into the Lily Pond. A fair number of vehicle tires were found abandoned in this area and, as they are difficult to remove entirely and to recycle, they are being used to form the bank of the pond and will be covered eventually with a lining which will hide them. We think that the pond is coming along nicely as these photos will show.
The lovely Frieda died during the night of Thursday 9th July. Volunteer Tom went in at 4 to turn her over. “She looked calm, with her friends standing and sleeping by her side,” he said.
Volunteer Miriam dedicated the famous song ‘No coming, no going’ (Thich Nhat Hanh, Plum Village France) to her:
‘No coming, no going
No after and no before
I hold you close to me
I release you to be so free
Because I am in you and you are in me
Because I am in you and you are in me”
The newest arrival at the Donkey Paradise (El Paraíso del Burro) in Asturias is Finn, a young Asturcon pony. The Asturcon pony is a semi-wild and ancient breed of pony, native to Asturias, and lives only on the Sueve mountain which is very close to the Donkey Paradise.
Finn arrived here in April 2015 and was extremely emaciated. He is a young pony and small, even for his breed, which is normally strong and stocky; he could be anything from 1 to about 4 years of age. He looks too small for a four year old but the vet says that his teeth show him to be around the age of 4. Finn could barely stand when he arrived, and had to lean on the old cart in the yard in order to maintain his balance. He was also rather ill: his body was invaded by ticks and internal parasites (worms) and his penis was swollen. The vet was called and his treatment was started: he was given treatment against Babeciosis (a tick-borne disease), given antibiotics for the infection in his penis and anti-worm paste for the internal parasites. He was keen to eat and so, with the addition of vitamins to his food, this has helped his progress.
Finn had no energy for the first three weeks. On the first night he slept in the “shop” as this meant he did not need to move very far. Each night Marleen would go to see him before she went to bed and, if he was in a difficult position, she would turn him to make him comfortable. A volunteer, Rory, took it upon himself to help Finn as much as possible, and one day he was overjoyed to see Finn stand up on his own for the first time. Then Rory would take him for walks around the land to increase his muscle strength. Finn is very stubborn and also strong for his size and it is necessary to walk behind him to encourage him to move forward, however he never kicks or bites and his whinny is a lovely sound. Sometime in the future it will be necessary for Finn to be castrated, but for the time being he will be left to gain his strength and enjoy his renewed health.
Now, just a few weeks later, Finn is able to live in the stables with the donkeys, he can go out into the fields with them during the day and he is improving daily. Now he is even able to run around! What a joy it is to see such a difference in him.
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.”
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: