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For the past six year, a large grey-coated mule (age unknown) has regularly been seen grazing on a plot of land near Gijon. Recently, some friends of El Paraiso del burro, who help out at the dog sanctuary in Infiesto, noticed that for about two months, the mule did not appear to have been cared for. He was beginning to look neglected and in poor health. He was without shelter, food and water, tethered to a tree and covered in parasites.

It was clear that he has either been abandoned or his owner can no longer care for him. The helpers from the Dog sanctuary managed to take him food and water but their concerns would not go away. Following discussions with the local police, it was agreed that he should be relocated to El Paraiso del Burro. The policemen even came along to see him off to his new home.

He is now settling into his new home in Arobes. He is thin, timid and rather afraid of humans but with time, care and a good diet, he should bounce back to good health and enjoy his days with our other residents. One of the first jobs we need to do is to eradicate the parasites…

Oh and bye the way, we have called him Pablo. Welcome to El Paraiso del Burro Pablo.

Welcome Pablo the Mule.


Paradise by Mia

This is my last day here in Paraiso del Burro. Tomorrow I’m leaving to go home to Sweden. The rain is pouring outside. Just ran out to get the donkeys in with Marleen, and Amber,  so that they won’t get cold and sick. The question is not if  I’m coming back, I will come back some day. And I guess thats what everybody feels after they spend some time here. Ive been here for a month, and I feel that I could stay here forever. Its really a paradise like its named. I’ve been enjoying every second here. All the other volunteers have been so nice. All ages, all so openminded people with nice hearts. 🙂


I’ve learned a lot about donkeys, and they really are smarter than horses. And they are really funny with their personalities. Their sounds, disabilities, stubborness and many of them are so curious. 😀 They all seem to enjoy it here.. If I were a donkey this would be my dreamplace.

Asturias is so beautiful, Its so green if you compare it to Malaga where I was before I came here. But it is also pretty cold in the night here, It is the high humidity that really gets it in to your bones.

The place itself is amazing. It so beautiful, and you really find some peace here. You forget what day it is, and you don’t care really. You just find your daily routines, and time just flies away.
Marleen is an amazing woman, so open minded, funny and intelligent, and propably the best cook I have ever met. The food here is so delicious. Mixed with nice red wine, makes you enjoy it even more. But be careful, dont eat too much 😉 Dont know how many kg I have put on since I came here hehe.


Except for taking care of the donkeys, I have been building a fence that I finished yesterday. I got a little help from some other volunteers, and I really enjoyed building it. If you are lucky You will see it when you get here 🙂  I have also been here during the “appleweek” that means, that Ive been picking ALOT of apples. And kind of sick of them now. They were sold to a cider factory, and I think this year is the record of kg;s ever picked, more than 11 tons 402 sacks of apples.. can you believe? And glad to be a part of that, to raise money to build a new roof to one of the stables.
I reccomend this place to everyone who likes animals.. If you never experience it you will miss something very special. Im so going to miss it!
All my love to Paraiso del burro and Marleen and to all the amasing people I have met here – 😉 see ya soon!

All the way from America…

Mike and I started planning our amazing summer in Europe in March, mostly between classes (or sometimes during classes 😉  We are both 3rd year veterinary students at Cornell University in New York, U.S.A. and when we heard about El Paraiso del Burro, we knew that it had to be on our list of stops.  It was our third stop and we had had very good experiences with our the other places we have been.  But Donkey Paradise turned out to be my favorite stop by far.  We were only supposed to stay for 2 weeks but it is the type of place that makes you want to stay for longer (we ended up staying for over a month.)

El Paraiso del Burro truly is a magical place where you learn and grow as people. For instance, we didn’t know very much about donkeys before we arrived. We quickly learned that all of the donkeys were individuals with their own personalities and habits. Like Norbert for instance, who we let into the garden to help us with our task of weeding. When our eyes were upon him he would pull up the grass with a speed we could not match. However, once our backs were turned he quickly began making himself a lovely salad of beet root, peas, and strawberries. Further mischief was seen every day in the adventure that was bringing in Lola’s gang (Lola, Anes, Ryo, and Kees) for their evening feeding. They were nice enough to give us several tours of the finca (in one day!) as they ran circles around it away from us. Our interactions with the donkeys did not just involve us chasing them though! We loved feeding time every night, when we were able to feed the donkeys and listen to the musical sound of 18 mouths chewing in unison. We were also able to practice some veterinary care by regularly cleaning out Joep’s hoof, giving injections to Platero, practicing physical exams, etc.

Aside from working with the donkeys, we also really enjoyed the projects we undertook here such as building fences, gates, and weeding. The work was very gratifying and we only wish that we could have done more during our stay here. However, it was not all work here, on our off days we had the luck of visiting some of the beautiful sights that Asturias has to offer. This region is an amazing place. As a group we hiked the Cares walk which offered some of the most amazing views I have ever seen. We also took a trip to the coast to see the gorgeous Asturian coast line. Perhaps our favorite place that we visited was the surreal Black Forest, which was like nothing we had ever seen before. Furthermore, we also were able to meet some of the friendliest people this world has to offer.

So, in the end, we leave with mixed emotions: sadness about leaving this one of a kind ‘”Paradise”, but also excited to share all of the stories and memories that we have of it. We have learned a lot, not only about donkeys, but about ourselves. We came to this place sure of many things. That we could never be vegetarians, for instance (and than we would go a week without having any meat and not even miss it). We were also sure that we were destined to be cat/dog veterinarians, but, after a few weeks of working with the donkeys (and the three wonderful horses), we are not even sure of that anymore (a state that is much more exciting!). One thing we can be sure of is that we have cherished our time here and cannot thank Marleen, Tanja, Carla, and all of 18 donkeys, 3 horses, and 5 dogs for all of their hospitality, patience, and generosity. We will never forget any of them or the great moments we shared here.

Lyndsay 2010

When the natural circle of life is closing… by Astrid

When the natural circle of life is closing…

Like described earlier, in “El Paraíso del burro” the donkeys are a part of your daily life. Even more strong, you are a part of their life as well. And the natural circle of life includes spring and new birth as well as winter and death.

The natural circle of life is closing when an animal is coming closer to the end of a hopefully happy life… we try to provide a natural environment for our donkeys, to keep their life as close to their biological life as possible. A natural life would include a natural death, though with the help we provide to keep the animal alive we also help to prevent a natural death. A donkey that can not stand up alone will not survive in the steppe of Nubia or Somalia , their natural environment. So we act against the nature, because we act out of our human nature!

Donkeys know no fear of death as we humans do. But they get old and feel pain, and their worried carers observe their every movement. Does the donkey eat as it usually does? If so, we are relieved. But if a donkey still eats, does it mean that it wants to live, or is it a matter of pangs of hunger? Finally, suffering and pain have no reason if there is no hope for bettering, let alone recovery.

Some weeks ago we have had the whole discussion over and over again here in Paraíso. The health of Jelle was not improving despite intensive and loving care of the team. The questions differed from a definition of the quality of life to our personal egoism to keep an animal alive. It touched our heart and kept our head busy while working, eating or talking.

Then the moment we all feared but expected came and Jelle did not eat his breakfast as he usually did. We looked at each other sadly, agreeing that we would wait for Marleen arriving in the night so she could say goodbye to one of the oldest donkeys in the sanctuary.

In the end Jelle died a natural death some hours later in April 2010.

As every flower fades and as all youth
Departs, so life at every stage,
So every virtue, so our grasp of truth,
Blooms in its day and may not last forever.

So be it, heart: bid farewell without end.

Hermann Hesse

Estefania and Daniel

It was on a typical Zamora´s sunny November´s day that we got on the road to Asturias. We had left Asturias a few months previously and now we returned within 15 km of our old house in Cangas de Onís. We had an opportunity to get to know almost all of Asturias including the Picos de Europa, The Sueve and Cuera mountain ranges… but we did not get to know of this beautiful and sunny oasis within the green and fresh Asturias.

Estefania and Daniel

I know I am going on… and yes we are talking about the Donkey Paradise. It was such a nice feeling to find ourselves during a downpour in the middle of a magical stable made into a kitchen, drinking tea with Marleen and all the other volunteers from Asturias and Madrid. The time spent during our life´s jurney at The Donkey Paradise has enabled us to spend days with people from the Canary Islands, Madrid, Germany, Holland and Sweden. We shared conversations in a unique and strange language that can only be understood here.

We stayed in our caravan-suite with fabulous views. We would sleep with our dog Senda and some days we would be joined by Mama and Tito, our cats who are mother and son ; we also had a lots of staff. Each day would be unique, some were foggy while others may be sunny, rainy and on some occasions we even got up with several inches of snow. Imagine the silly slips we took !

What can we say about the donkeys? They are such an adorable animal and yet so stubborn and at the same time cute that in the end we came away loving each and every single one of them. Each donkey is like a friend, you can almost guess what they are thinking all the time as you form a close relationship with each donkey while staying at the sanctuary. To go around the 7 hectars of the sanctuary to collect the donkeys on a sunny afternoon is an experience that we will never forget.

Our favourite donkeys are Juliet (for Estefanía) and Joep ( for Dani).

Passing throught the sanctuary on our life´s journey has transformed us, we now are more tuned into animal welfare ; you must not forget that we belong to the same family,  the mammals. During our stay, we lost two donkyes : Niño and Jelle. We hope that they find enough good grass in the paradise where they are now. We have even decided to stop eating meat, not a hard decission here at the sanctuary as all the meals are vegetarian if you so wish.

Talking about food, it is such a wonderful experience to try the meals that Marleen, Tanja, Carla and other volunteers prepare. Well prepared vegetables are very nice… We also loved the bechamel and other sauces, we have even learnt how to bake bread and make home made yogurt.

Work on the field is very pleasant and you are always in the company of other volunteers and the donkeys are never too far, there are also dogs and even some cats. Some volunteers will work erecting fences while other do the cooking or work in the vegetable plot. You can always pace yourself while doing the job as Marleen is always very happy if you take things easy.

One last little project that we got involved with was to clear some land in front of the house for a garden border with a herb spiral included within it. We first had to clear the plot before we put a fence around it to prevent the donkeys eating the plants. We also added well rotted manure…

It is very pleasing to see people from nearby villages coming to help every week like Peter and Lynn or Joann. It is very satisfaying to see people helping and getting involved with the projects such as this. We are very pleased to have been part of it.

After 6 months, we now know that we like donkeys, love Marleen and all those who are involved with the project.

We will return one day for sure. Love from Estefania and Daniel.

Herb Spiral

Futuro jardín y espiral de hierbas aromaticas


Jelle, our beautiful donkey of more then thirty years has left us. He died by himself after a few months of disease, a disease that we don’t know what it was. He just lost a lot of weight and his muscles just disappered to the point were we had to lift him up every morning. In the beginning we tried to walk him in the meadow for exercise but one day he fell pretty bad and after that he refused to walk outside. He was old. But some days he looked better and we all thought maybe…but then he couldn’t stand up again and slowly it got worse.

Jelle spent two years in Paraiso and was always to be found near his best friend Norbert. Jelle would patiently wait at Norbert’s side when he was taking a rest in the meadowgrass and then they would slowly move along to the next piece of yummy grass!


Donkey Soccer (by Farina and Ralph)

We have now been for two weeks in the ” El Paraiso del Burro”, which is really what its name promises, a paradise, not only for donkeys.

Wakening up in our own caravan, seeing the dogs playing, taking a walk through Marleen’s beautiful property, having fun with crazy people here (and animals, too!), enjoying the great food and of course working on our own chosen project: preparing a part of the garden and taking care of Marleen’s strawberries. There is quite a lot freedom in what you chose to do and how you do it. There are many aspects, which will give you a great experience you should not miss!

There are many skills to acquire here, not only in how to communicate and treat animals (especially donkeys), but also in taking responsibility for your surroundings and of course many kinds of manual works. We have learnt for example some skills in building. Since we have been here a new stable was built, we also learned about organic gardening and got some great new recipes (like vegan cheese) – and by the way learned how to bake our own bread.

Who's leading who?

The best result of our stay is the scientific proof that a fishing-rod in combination with a carrot really works to make a donkey follow you. On this basis we invented a game called ”donkey-soccer”, in which you have to get a ball in the combatants goal without loosing touch with your ”team-donkey”, who you have to convince to go in the right direction only with your donkey-fishing rod. In fact it didn’t really work since the donkeys living in Paraiso are on one hand quite spoiled and therefore do not really hasten to get the carrot, and one the other hand a little afraid or at least suspicious of the ball -we think they will just need more training.

Farina & Ralf

Do you want to Volunteer?

At ‘El Paraiso del Burro’ we need our volunteers. The Donkeys need daily care including feeding, grooming, health checks, stabling and contact. They are great animals to be around, each with their own personality, likes and dislikes, routines and friends. Maybe you have some spare time this coming year? Perhaps a week or two in Spain might appeal? Perhaps spending a few days with us here in Asturias? In addition to caring for the Donkeys we also require a great deal of help with other aspects of life here at the Sanctuary such as fencing, clearing scrub land and brambles, apple picking, building and general maintenance, cooking, help around the vegetable plot….the list is endless. Marleen has the philosophy that volunteers can come and make their own choices about the work they do.

Caravans for our Volunteers

The accommodation is usually in on-site caravans however, we are still developing the infrastructure so amenities are basic. The food we serve is usually cooked and provided by Marleen but occasionally we have a volunteer who likes to cook and give Marleen some respite. The diet is vegetarian and wholesome. The peace and tranquility that is on offer cannot be bought. It really is a paradise nestled in a beautiful part of green Spain. As one of our volunteers recently wrote in the visitors book:  “Well, it seems to me as if somebody has thrown a small seed into the country, and the beautiful flower grows very fast in the Asturian soil, carrying the message of love between human and animal. (Timo)”.

If you want to visit us or spend some time this year volunteering, please contact Marleen directly at: marleen.verhoef at or find us through the WWOOF programme.  We look forward to hearing from you.

Paradise.......from tiny seeds

Volunteers also take the opportunity to enjoy Asturias. It is a beautiful and impressive area that has miles and miles of unspoilt beaches, spectacular mountain ranges (including the Picos de Europa Mountains), glorious woodlands and forests and an abundance of fauna and flora. It’s not all work here in Paradise!

Happy New Year

It has been another busy year at El Paraiso del Burro with several new donkeys to care for and a lot of ongoing maintenance around the land. We have had a steady stream of Volunteers over the year whose contribution has been greatly valued and appreciated.

"That feels good"

A great big thank you to all our supporters and volunteers not only to those here in Spain and the Netherlands but also to those who continue to support us from other parts of the world. There is no doubt that 2010 will bring yet more challenges for us here but with good health and hard work we will continue to be happy and content in our work caring for older and retired Donkeys. We wish you a prosperous and healthy New Year, best wishes, Marlene and the team…….and not forgetting the Donkeys!

2010 is going to be a good year!


With 18 donkeys – in two stables –  the donkeyparadise was fully inhabited already. But who could resist a donkey like Juliet? Not us.

Estefania and Juliet on the way to the trailer of the donkey paradise.

Nobody knows her age. Her body shows clear signs, though, of a long and extremely hard ‘working carreer’. With her frontlegs and breast torn apart, back caved in deeply, she has serious walking problems.

Juliet doesn’t like us to touch her as yet. But in the stable with 12 other donkeys she is assertive enough and has settled in quickly and well. Our donkeyparadise now counts 19 donkeys at the moment …