Newsletter Spring 2010

  Winter 2009/2010 - donkeys in snow

This last winter needs no introduction: by now we all know it was the coldest since 1963 with heavier snowfalls and ice accumulations than we have experienced in Ireland for generations.

Yet, despite the cold and very late Spring there were advantages for us as, not surprisingly, in the middle of the recession, we also experienced our busiest winter ever and with an unprecendented number of animals to look after the dry, cold, sunny days were infinitely preferable to the usual unrelenting rain, storms and mud!

Given food and shelter most equines can cope with the cold - even the donkeys whose natural habitat would be desert where the temperature at night regularly falls well below freezing.



Not surprisingly we had our losses and had to say goodbye at last to dear old donkey NOAH who had rallied from mini-strokes on at least two occasions until we began to see him as immortal. He was extremely ancient, perhaps in his 40’s, and had been with us for 13 years. Our webmistress, Katie, has created a wonderful photographic memorial to the old timer on our website, (here)


Next to leave was CARYSS, a very elderly, Welsh Section A, pony mare whom we brought home from a Mart in poor condition and with cuts and bruising around her head. She was a sweet, loving little pony who had occasional blackouts but who was otherwise in good health. She died suddenly and very quickly whilst having her breakfast. (here)




Serena and Buddy Boy, are still with us and are now available for fostering on our permanent loan scheme (preferably together as they are totally bonded). They have wintered extremely well and look magnificent in their new summer coats.

Serena and Buddy

Serena (left) and Buddy enjoy a gallop

Both horses came to us in late summer 2009, Serena in very poor condition and suffering from mastitis. She had an extremely emaciated foal at foot who subsequently died (full story in our Autumn 2009 newsletter) and Buddy Boy came to recuperate from a fractured shoulder which he sustained after a kick from another horse which had been bullying him. As you can see from the photo they have both made full recoveries although Serena’s damaged leg remains permanently disfigured. Serena is about 8 years old, Buddy only 3 years old. Both have lovely gentle natures and are easily managed.



On December 6th, St. Nicholas Day, we were called to collect a 3 year old stallion donkey that had been abandoned on bogland at Curry, near Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo. The reportee was most distressed as the donkey had a “growth the size of a cabbage” hanging from his belly and although it was hard to believe, this description was entirely accurate. Nicholas, as we called the donkey, had an enormous sarcoid hanging from his sheath. His hooves were overlong and he was scruffy but not otherwise in bad condition. The first examination left us hopeful that the sarcoid may be operable as it appeared to be attached by a long stem but sadly, once Nicholas was under anesthetic and could be examined more thoroughly, we could see that there were several other growths in the area and along the belly line, some of them too deep to remove. so we were left with no option except to put him to sleep as ultimately they would have interfered with his urinary functions. It is also possible that the virus that caused them to grow in the first place could be transmitted to our other equines. Although we would have liked photographs for our own records the SIM card on the camera was faulty, so readers are spared the graphic pictures on this occasion.    



Amongst our newcomers this winter we introduce donkeys Harriet, her colt foal Hari, yearling daughter Hannah and friend (possibly cousin) Hepzibar. Hepzibar’s mother had already died in the field before our involvement and her younger sister of only a few months was in such a pitiful state of extreme emaciation, body sores, rain scald and very low body temperature that our vet put her to sleep on the grounds that her internal organs would be so damaged, survival was unlikely.

Hari, Harriet and  Hannah
Hari, Harriet and Hannah with Charlie Dougle to the right



We were called to help out by our County Vet and the ISPCA as, apart from these five donkeys, three other donkeys and a horse had to be removed immediately and it was very much a case of getting them somewhere warm and dry as fast as possible, then building up their food intake slowly so as not to overload their digestive systems.

They had been living in a large field so devoid of any form of greenery they had stripped the trees and hedgerows of every bit of accessible bark and even eaten the fenceposts and wooden gateposts down to the ground.





Our photos show Hari and the girls a few weeks after arrival when they were already well on the road to recovery as frankly it is too distressing for most people, including ourselves, to be looking at the earlier photos taken in the field before removal and immediately afterwards. It may seem callous even to be taking these photographs but they are necessary information for the Gardai who intend to prosecute the owner for cruelty. Hence we can give no further details, nor mention names at this stage.

Other donkeys and horses found at the house of the same owner were in good body condition which begs the question ‘Why look after some and literally starve others to death?'




Perdito with Crystal
Perdito with Crystal for size comparison

This little chap, sad though his case is, gave us a laugh the day we were contacted by the Gardai to collect him. We were told a stray donkey had been wandering the road for several days and was in a poor state.

A neighbouring farmer had taken him off the roadside to the safety of a small field adjacent to an unoccupied house and could we collect him immediately, so off we set with the horse trailer in tow, only to find this tiny donkey foal who would have fitted in the back of the jeep with room to spare!

We felt rather ridiculous bundling him into a full size horse trailer so, needless to say, when he needed to see the vet two days later, he travelled in the back of the jeep with a carer cuddling him through the dog guard!

We called him Perdito (the lost one) as no owner has been found and without question he never saw the inside of a shed from the day he was born judging by the extreme rain scald, mud fever and body sores he had lurking under his shaggy dark brown foal coat. We were doubtful of his survival but within a few days he was squeaking for his breakfast along with the bigger donkeys and although he has not grown much and will never make a big strong fellow, he more than compensates with a delightful, affectionate nature.    



When we were contacted by the Gardai to collect three apparently abandoned ponies and found a pregnant, skewbald Shetland mare, and two pretty Welsh type youngsters, one a two year old filly and the other a yearling colt, we were doubtful that they were either lost or abandoned.

Sienna and Indigo
Sienna and Indigo

Whilst it is common for the colts and stallions to be unwanted as the cost of castration is often considerably more than the financial worth of the animal. It is, even in these times, unusual for a pregnant mare or a pretty filly to be cast aside.

Nevertheless they had to be moved: as the mare was well advanced in her pregnancy the ISPCA agreed to take her immediately as they have better foaling facilities so she was delivered to The National Animal Centre near Lanesborough in Co. Longford before we returned home with the other two ponies to look after until such time as the ISPCA have room to take them from us, or we find suitable foster homes.


No sooner were we home when the alleged owner telephoned, claiming the ponies were his and expressing himself with a great deal of self righteous bluster, indignation and threats. The events of the next 24 hours were colourful to say the least but suffice to say that mention of the reclaim fees to cover transport, insurance, worming paste and feeding resulted in the request to look at the ponies just in case he was mistaken and they were not his!

Despite having previously given a detailed and accurate description of each one, when he visited he now claimed his were bigger and lo and behold! ...... suddenly received a phone call on his mobile telling him that his ponies had been retrieved elsewhere and were awaiting collection . No Oscars there!!  

Although it is regrettable that such owners can opt out of their responsibilities so easily, the results of their first de-worming convinced us that for the ponies’ sake at least it was best not to pursue the matter further. All three ponies delivered the heaviest burden of red worm any of us has seen in a very long time, thereby reducing the size of their distended bellies considerably. Suddenly our imminently pregnant mare looks as if she could wait another month or two before delivering a foal!  


Our thanks are legion: to Kim Aldridge for €3000 from the sale of a vintage car; to Lizzie Cartwright for an exceedingly generous donation; to Victoria and Dave Smith for their old horse trailer which has served all winter as a donkey proof feedstore, and for donkey rugs which came in very handy during the cold weather; to Kean O’Hara for a tonne of Gain Cool and Easy feed; to Peter Allman for donating 1,000 Christmas cards printed from one of our own photos which was taken at the Sanctuary; to Diane Keevans, Steve Furlong and Joe Flanaghan for organising a church collection which raised €588.40; to Steve Furlong who, with Diane’s help, organised a gig at a venue in Sligo and raised €200 and to Diane, Inge and Elke who sold a phenomenal amount of Christmas cards on the Sanctuary’s behalf and Tom, Mary, Trevor and Annette for generous donations of those precious commodities, hay and straw.

There are, of course, many others who have given generously of their time and resources: not all appreciate being mentioned but we hope we have offended no one through omission! Our regular volunteers Karen, Angela, Fiona, Jen, Vi and Mike also deserve a pat on the back for their consistent dedication, even through the bad weather.  



The Sai Sanctuary wishes to pay tribute to three Friends of the Animals, John Aldridge, Ivan Sendell and Toni Spear of UK, all of whom passed away in the later part of 2009 taking with them happy memories of time spent enjoying the Sanctuary and leaving us with fondness and gratitude for their help, support and friendship. Their love and generosity has helped to change the lives of many animals for the better. We extend our sympathies to their families and friends.    



Charlie Doogle
Charlie Doogle

As soon as Perdito was strong enough to engage with a companion we honoured a promise to take in another 6 month old donkey colt foal from a family in Glencar who had suffered bereavement and found it necessary to cut down on the number of animals they were keeping.

Rather than try to sell Charlie to an uncertain future in a distressed economic climate they asked if he could be taken into the Sanctuary with a view to finding him and a friend a foster home at a later date when he has been gelded.

Charlie is a colt, very full of himself, inclined to bite, kick and push, not through nastiness but just because he’s a real boy. He’s a bit ebullient for little Perdito even though they adore each other, so most days he gets turned out with the adult donkeys to run off some energy playing and romping around.


When he gets too cheeky for them they put him in his place with a retaliatory nip or thump, so gradually he is learning respect and manners. He’s a real little character with enough curiosity for a cartload of monkeys!



As winter drew near we were concerned about or horses wintering out on the hillside at Ballinafad about 10km from the Sanctuary. Although there is plenty of natural shelter and they are all rugged and well fed, they are of advancing years. Copper, one of our thoroughbred mares, is very aged and found the previous winter difficult enough. So thanks to the generosity of our supporters we bought a 20ft metal lorry container which was delivered and placed in the field near the entrance gate. The container is insulated, has a wooden floor and with the doors fastened back and deep straw inside has proved to be a cosy, weatherproof shelter with permanent access....... And they LOVE it! It was a cheaper option than building a large shed on difficult terrain and has the added bonus that we can move it elsewhere when the current lease on the land expires. Needless to say all three horses and the mules made great use of it during the very cold snowy weather and we had peace of mind that they were warm and dry at all times.

Copper and Taus

Copper and Taus



Why not spend some time enjoying the donkeys and ponies at the Sanctuary this summer? There are currently still some weeks available for our rental cottage which is situated on site at the Sanctuary and enjoys beautiful views to the North of Keash Hill, the Ox Mountains, Sligo Bay, Benbulben and Donegal.

Top House kitchenIt offers two double bedrooms, a sleeping loft for up to two children (or small adults), an open kitchen /diner, separate small sitting room with open fire, bathroom, utility room and a large entrance porch which is ideal for wet clothing and wellies. It is serviced with an oil fired central heating boiler. Dishwasher, washing machine, fridge and freezer are supplied, as are linens and towels unless you prefer to bring your own. Pets are welcome provided they are house trained, do not damage furniture or fittings and are safe around livestock. This is not a new build but it is a comfortable, well equipped holiday venue for people who love the countryside, animals and nature. If you are interested please telephone Sue on 0871031932 or email Further information and photos of the area can be seen on our website :



You came in with your mother,
brought to the Sanctuary after someone noticed your plight,
left alone on that cold and lonely bog to fend for yourselves,
no food, no shelter.
Your poor mother was too ill to look after you.
How grateful she was to see the horsebox,
to hear kind words and to know that she and her baby were safe.
Somebody was finally going to help.  

You were so weak you had to be carried into the trailer.
For the first time in your pitifully short life you felt warm.
Snuggled into the straw, you slept.  

Poor little boy, how thin you were!
How could anything be that thin?
Your legs were almost too weak to support you,
you were so dehydrated your eyes were sunken into their sockets.
How could anyone let this happen to you?  

For four days you were given fluids by the vet,
which brightened you a little and you managed to eat some hay
and drink some milk from a bottle.
Meanwhile your dear mother stood and watched
knowing you were in good hands.

Not for you the exuberance and curiosity of youth playing in the field without a care,
running back and forth for reassurance from Mom.
For ten days you fought for life and for a while it seemed you might win.
That last sunny morning you stood next to your mother and tried to copy her whinny.
What a funny little noise.
It made us smile.  

A happy ending was not for you.
Later that night, quietly in the darkness,
with your gentle mother watching over,
You slipped away from us,
to a place where the sun always shines
and little foals are free from pain and fear.

Dear Apollo, we will never forget you.



Karen Finn 2009      

Apollo’s full story is told in our Autumn 2009 newsletter



Our thanks are extended to Minister Brendan Smith and the Department of Agriculture and Food for supporting our work with what we consider to be a generous €6000 payment given the difficult economic climate. It will be used primarily towards essential farm services for which we currently have neither the manpower nor the machinery to do ourselves and of course, helps to ensure that we can continue to give sanctuary to the increasingly needy equines of this area. We are aware the Department faces challenges of its own, one of which is addressing the whole equine welfare issue for which there is no ‘quick-fix’ solution. Meetings and discussions have taken place over the winter months from which a positive outcome is anticipated.


We wish you all an enchanting, if late, Spring and a very enjoyable summer and thank you again for your invaluable support. Even between us we can’t help the whole animal world, but for those we do help, it is the world!



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