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.
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.
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 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:
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
Winter Tales is just a play on words as at “El Paraiso del Burro” there are so many tales: most are happy ones and many are wagging and wafting tales of different shapes, sizes and colours!
How is the winter progressing for our followers? The beginning of February was rather stormy in Asturias, with the arrival of heavy snow, although we were lucky enough not to get any snow here at El Paraiso del Burro as we are a not so far above sea level. However, the snow can be seen all around us and some parts of Asturias were totally cut off by deep snowfall. Furthermore, the main road just below the sanctuary is now closed indefinitely due to a landslide following heavy rain. The donkeys have spent a lot of time indoors in January and February and so, when the sun finally came out this last week, the donkeys especially were very glad to get back out into the fields.
In January we received two new donkeys all the way from the Pays Basque: the lovely Burri and her daughter Burriki. Both were well loved but unfortunately their previous owners were unable to keep them and contacted us.
Work continues of course and our willing volunteers are always busy, with stable cleaning and animal care especially high on the list. This month there are new apple trees to be planted and continuing work to provide new pathways. As you can see from the photos, the pathway leading to the cabin is coming along well and provides a much safer route and a new path is also being constructed behind the house to provide a dry route through an unusually muddy area. Unfortunately, in the process of laying the path, part of it gave way due to water erosion and now a new drain will have to be put in to divert the water away.
I hope you enjoy these photos of the landscape and the animals enjoying the sunshine after the rain.
Winter is a beautiful time of year here in Asturias, when the Picos de Europa mountains are often covered in snow and there is a good view of the mountains from the grounds of “El Paraiso del Burro,” however, at this level, we rarely get snow covering the ground for any length of time.
Winter is a time of year for taking a little extra care of the animals to ensure that they do not get too cold or too wet. At “El Paraiso del Burro” we have large, dry stables and outdoor shelters, stocked with plenty of hay and drinking water, to keep our donkeys warm and dry. They are always brought back into the stables to shelter from the heavy rain, wind and occasional snow.
Donkeys come originally from hot, dry countries and their coats are quite different to that of a horse. A donkey’s coat becomes wet through very quickly on rainy days and the donkey quickly becomes cold and miserable. As donkeys can also be prone to pneumonia or bronchitis, it is important to provide a shelter for them so they are able to get out of the rain. How often do you see a donkey left out in a field in the rain? They never look very happy do they? Please provide a shelter for your donkey and remember that if you look after him or her well he will live longer and be healthier.
Finally, I wish you all a very Happy New Year from everyone at “El Paraiso del Burro”.