Donkey Sanctuary sees 30% increase in callouts during ‘very difficult’ year

Donkey Sanctuary sees 30% increase in callouts during ‘very difficult’ year

A group of donkeys on Hannigans Farm at The Donkey Sanctuary

In a year of decimated fundraising opportunities, operational challenges, and a 30% increase in callouts, The Donkey Sanctuary Ireland remains resilient and hopeful.

The Sanctuary’s visitor centre in Liscarroll, which would typically see over 50,000 people come through the doors in a normal year, has been closed for over 12 months as a result of the pandemic, which Country Manager Laura Foster says has impacted the charity in many ways.

“Like a number of charities, we’ve struggled financially during Covid to attract the same kind of income, for various reasons.

“Covid has obviously meant that a lot of people’s ability to give has been compromised.

“From a fundraising point of view, the last year has been very difficult,” she said.

“Our open farm has been shut since March last year.

“That’s been a big loss to us and we know our supporters have missed the donkeys and the donkeys have definitely missed the supporters.”

Despite being closed to the public, work at the four farms in the Liscarroll area continues daily, with farm and vet staff tending to the donkeys’ needs.

“From an organisational point of view, we’ve really had to adapt to keep people safe, because if we’re keeping people safe, we’re also keeping our donkeys safe,” Ms Foster told The Echo.

Joe Prendergast Donkey Welfare Adviser with Rowan the donkey.
Joe Prendergast Donkey Welfare Adviser with Rowan the donkey.

“That’s been challenging, but the determination and creativity the team have shown over the past year has been incredible.”

Community-based work

As well as looking after the donkeys on site, the charity also does welfare work in the community. 

Last year, the charity saw a rise in the number of welfare calls from concerned members of the public, and from owners rehoming their donkeys or mules because they could no longer care for them.

“During Covid, during 2020, we had a 30% increase in the number of donkeys that we actually saw out in the community,” Ms Foster said.

“We saw over 1,400 donkeys last year out in the community, as well as looking after the donkeys in our care.

“We have 1,200 donkeys in our direct care and then we have over 600 out in guardian homes, that we’re also legally responsible for.

“We’re still gathering data on the impact of Covid, but we know that the welfare callouts that we went to were much higher in 2020.”

With sanctuary facilities at capacity, this community work is integral to ensuring donkeys and mules across the country live free from suffering.

“We’re not able to take more donkeys and mules into our care, so our work is increasingly focused on working out in the community: Emergency callouts, working with owners, providing education, providing emergency treatments, referrals to farriers, to people who can do dentistry work, working with the guards, working with local authorities, working with our partner charities, and so on,” Ms Foster said.

“Our staff would say that this winter, in particular, has been very, very tough.”

Urgent appeal for donations 

In early December, anticipating a spike in welfare cases, the charity issued an urgent appeal for donations.

“We were expecting the economic downturn, as a result of Covid and Brexit thrown into the mix, as well as people just falling on hard times generally, to have an impact,” Ms Foster explained.

“When human welfare suffers, animal welfare tends to suffer.

“We have definitely seen a spike in really, really sad cases over the course of the winter.

“Lots of donkeys in rainy, cold conditions, with bad hooves, requiring emergency care, requiring new homes.

“We’ve worked really, really hard to reach those animals and despite the restrictions, we did phenomenally well last year.

“We managed to rehome over 150 donkeys in the community.

“So, these are donkeys that were already owned by someone, but they weren’t in the right place, the owners weren’t able to provide the right care,” Ms Foster said.

“We’ve managed to facilitate over 150 donkeys into new homes, as well as rehome from our own sites into guardian homes.”

In an immensely difficult year for the country, Ms Foster says the charity has been humbled by public support.

Adoption donkey Lorcan at The Donkey Sanctuary
Adoption donkey Lorcan at The Donkey Sanctuary

“We had a fantastic response to our appeal,” Ms Foster said.

“That was a real motivator for our staff, during a really tough, tough period.”

The charity has also been delighted by the continued popularity of their adoption donkeys, one of whom is a firm favourite with the public.

“Lorcan is our most popular and oldest donkey,” Ms Foster said. “He’s got people who adopt him from all over the world.

“They’re all pretty popular, but Lorcan does tend to get a lot of attention, because he’s older and because his ears are so floppy.

“Adopting animals is a lovely way of connecting with other human beings when you can’t see them in person, so, actually, our adoption donkeys were really popular this year.”


Looking ahead to life after lockdown, the sanctuary is hoping to reopen to the public before the autumn, pending government approval.

“We’ll try and open later this year. 

“We’re not sure exactly when that will be and, obviously, we’ll be guided by the government guidance and how the vaccination programme goes, but, with a bit of luck, we’re hoping we’ll be able to open before the summer is out,” Ms Foster said.

“Although we’ve been very busy during lockdown, we’ve had the opportunity to think about what we want to do differently when things become a little bit more routine.

“We’re really looking forward to putting some of those ideas into action.”

And it’s not just humans who will be looking forward to the full reopening of the open farm.

“Donkeys are very intelligent animals and they are really social. We really think that they have missed the visitors,” Ms Foster said.

“Some of the younger donkeys from our big barn, like Mary and Jigglypuff or Snowdrop, they’ve got a reputation for knocking over brushes or staying behind for extra scratches behind the ears.

“They’re definitely attention seekers.”

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