Neglected donkeys get care

Seven-month old Chiclet has a face only a mother could love. The tops of his ears have disappeared – probably a result of frostbite. A vicious red scab runs from his eyes to his nostrils. His fur has been shorn off to treat a massive tick infestation. He stands naked in the crook of Sandra Pady’s arm. While she strokes his cheeks, Chiclet leans into her embrace, soaking up the affection like sugar water.

Fifty-six-year-old Pady, a former teacher and needlepoint entrepreneur, never pitched a hayfork in her life until 1991. Now she’s running a 100-acre farm as a sanctuary for abused and unwanted donkeys.

Yes, donkeys – those creatures of caricature who are the poster animals for stubbornness and the butt of jokes because of their comical hee-haw. Donkeys, it turns out, have a particularly rough go of it in this world. People buy them when they’re tiny and cute, then lose interest. They shove them to the back of a barn and forget about them.

Donkey neglect
When first discovered in a field outside Kingston, Chiclet’s hooves were so long they curled up like oriental slippers. This kind of neglect causes terrible pain, Pady says — donks need their hooves trimmed at least six times a year.

People feel less guilty about mistreating donkeys because they’re stereotyped as dumb beasts, says Paula Pick, a member of the sanctuary’s board of directors. “They’re seen as somehow less worthy.”

Actually, donkeys are highly intelligent animals who will not be cajoled into an unpleasant situation. “If you ask them to walk through water, which they loathe, they’ll balk,” Pady says. “Whereas a horse can be urged to do almost anything.”

City girl
To date, Pady has taken in 75 equines (mostly donkeys, but a few horses and mules as well). Her donkey sanctuary is the only one of its kind in Canada and is patterned after the Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, England, which has been in operation for 30 years now.

“Our pledge is to ensure that the animals we take in can live out their lives with love and dignity, surrounded by their own kind and given the best possible human care,” Pady says.

This all seems a bit amazing for a person of Pady’s background. A city girl born in Montreal and  raised in the Hamilton area, she lived in Toronto for 23 years. Her first job was as a teacher at a girls’ reformatory in Lindsay, Ont., and later she taught special-needs children before moving into the craft business in the late ’70s and early ’80s, manufacturing needlepoint kits for national distribution.

She and her husband David had their first taste of country life when they bought a weekend home in Campbellville, Ont.

“We became very fond of the country and realized the time had come to move out of the city. So we bought this farm,” she says.

And what a farm. The tree-lined lane opens onto a vista of rolling hills, topped with an 1860s stone farmhouse that could easily grace the cover of Country Home magazine. Yet when she closes the door on the elegance of her home and trots across to the barn, there’s no smell, no dirt, no injury too ugly to faze her.

“I was and I am still enamored of donkeys,” Pady says. “From the first moment I saw them. I find them soothing. They’re quiet and still. When I’m with them I always feel so much more grounded. I’m reminded that the only thing that’s important is the now – this minute – just being, looking around and seeing all the goodness. All that comes over me when I’m with the donkeys.”

First arrivals
It’s easy to understand why when you see the rescued donkeys frisking contentedly in the daisy-covered fields — and thanks to the resiliency of youth, Chiclet will soon be among them.

Pady’s first donkeys arrived in 1991 to protect a flock of sheep from attacks by one of her standard poodles. Donkeys, it turns out, make wonderful guardians. After rescuing another little donkey who’d been left alone in a barn, and saving a dozen more from their fate at the abattoir, she contacted the English sanctuary.

“They were very helpful,” Pady says. ” I thought starting a donkey sanctuary was something I could do in Canada. But I realized that I would be taking responsibility for these animals for the rest of their natural lives.”

Donkeys can live for 30 years in a Canadian climate. With her husband’s support she launched her new career.

“I can honestly say right now I’m one of the luckiest people in the world,” Pady says. “I’m doing what I’m passionate about. I love every day of my life.”

The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada, now a non-profit corporation and a registered charity, held its first Donkey Day fundraiser in 1993. Three hundred people came out to pet the donkeys, take a donkey ride, or simply have a picnic by the pond. Donkey Day is now an annual event, attracting up to 1,300 people, with local dance groups and choirs rounding out the entertainment.

 ”It’s a wonderful day in the country for animal lovers,” Pady says.

It costs over $100,000 a year to feed, house and care for the donkeys, so donations are critical for the sanctuary’s existence. Pady, an unpaid volunteer, manages the workload with one full-time caretaker and a part-time office worker.

The sanctuary, now famous across the country and in the United States, is open to the public on Wednesdays and Sundays from May through October. Pady also runs an animal welfare education program, with schoolchildren coming to the farm and learning firsthand how to look after animals.

The sanctuary is located at  6981 Puslinch Concession 4, RR 6 Guelph, Ont., N1H 6J3. Telephone 519-836-1697.