Harnessing hope for Scotland’s donkeys

Across the world, donkeys are used as beasts of burden, and many others are kept as pets. 

Sadly, many people have to give up the beasts for a variety of reasons.

Former donkey breeder Rosemary Dale offers unwanted and abandoned animals a new lease of life at her Borders sanctuary.

What made you decide to start the sanctuary?

I was previously a donkey breeder and it all began when two donkey owners contacted me to ask if I could take their donkeys back and give them a home. Soon after, an awful lot of people started getting in touch with me to ask if I could take their donkeys because they were moving to the city or had bought a new house. Others would phone me up because they wanted a good home for their donkey and wouldn’t want to sell them. It’s like a dog, isn’t it? You wouldn’t want to sell your old dog, so why would you want to sell your donkey? You just want it to go somewhere it’ll be loved. So in October 2003, I decided to open the Scottish Borders Donkey Sanctuary in St Boswells.

How has it evolved over the years?

Today, we have 80 donkeys here at the sanctuary and 20 more out on the moor, but it changes all the time. We aim to provide permanent accommodation for the donkeys and mules in need of re-homing whether as a result of rescue from cruelty, neglect or because the current owners could no longer care for them.

What is a typical day at the sanctuary like?

It changes every day and you are just non-stop feeding things. Along with the donkeys, we have ponies, llamas, goats, pigs, sheep, ducks and many breeds of poultry, and a mule called Muffin. From the moment I get up in the morning , I’m constantly chasing after the donkeys, feeding them and doing what I can to take care of them. The vet comes in twice a week to check up on them, so you can imagine what our bills are like. But, honestly, the donkeys take up every minute of my life.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

When we rescued donkeys from the meat trade. One wasn’t looking good, and so I called the vet. He came and looked at her, and said, ‘Oh, there’s not much wrong, she’s just depressed.’ It hadn’t even been five minutes since he said that, when I noticed a wee foot coming out… she was having a baby! And, the other one we saved had a foal as well, so we didn’t just save two donkeys, we saved four. It’s awful to think they would just make salami out of them when they’re pregnant. I’ve never felt the same way about salami.

Do you need help with the day-to-day running?

Yes, we’re always looking for more volunteers. The younger ones we have often go off to university and the recent graduates go on looking for jobs. Because of that, we don’t always have enough. Sadly, a lot of people in Scotland get a degree and can’t always find a job in their field, so we have some incredibly well-educated volunteers, like biologists and botanists. That said, we always appreciate having more volunteers. They can help out with feeding the animals, grooming them, and with the tours we give on weekends to our visitors.

What’s next for the Donkey Sanctuary?

We’ll carry on pulling heartstrings, trying to get more people to donate money. I think people are better off now, so that might mean there aren’t as many treating donkeys poorly by not giving them the proper food or not caring for their feet and teeth. I hope things are looking up for them. There are also other trustees younger than me who dedicate their time to the donkeys and the other animals, who will hopefully take over for me when I can’t manage any more. I want the Scottish Borders Donkey Sanctuary to last.

To find out how to sponsor a donkey, or for more information, visit www.donkeyheaven.org.

This feature originally appeared in Scottish Field’s May 2016 edition.