With today being the International Day of the Donkey, this seems like the perfect time to report back on a visit to the Donkey Sanctuary in Liscarroll, Co. Cork. It has been in operation since 1987, and is connected to the UK-based Donkey Sanctuary in Devon. The overall goal is to improve living conditions for working donkeys and mules. More specifically, in Ireland the Sanctuary’s work has involved rescuing abandoned donkeys or taking in those that are surrendered by their owners who can no longer afford to care for them, something which has happened a lot in the past five years.
If possible, the Sanctuary seeks to find suitable new owners or people who can foster the donkeys.
I visited the Mallow Sanctuary in winter of 2013, on a lovely sunny day. Coming down from Dublin, and not by car, it is somewhat involved, but it can be done. Basically I took the train to Mallow and called for a taxi (the people at the Sanctuary were able to recommend someone) to take me the rest of the way. On the trip from the train station (about 15 minutes), the driver told me about British actor Oliver Reed, who had settled down to live in Mallow (where he is now buried), and about his funeral which lasted all weekend.
Once at the center, there are various paths you can take to see the donkeys out in the fields and shelters. In the summer, many more are out and about.
There’s also a small building where you can sit and watch a video about how the Sanctuary was started and how the donkeys are cared for. In it, the staff explain how important it is for donkey’s hooves to receive regular care from the farrier (which can be an expensive part of their upkeep). Without that, their hooves begin to curl, and often, by the time they are attended to, it’s too late and they have to be put down. What I also learned from the video is that – while we have seen donkeys as part of the photographic history of Ireland for quite a while – donkeys are not endemic to the cooler and wet climate of the island. They are native to the Middle East, where walking on the drier stones and sand help to naturally keep their hooves trim. (If I recall correctly, I believe the video mentioned that it was the Romans who first introduced donkeys to Ireland.)
Aside from the educational aspects of a visit, the donkeys are great fun to watch. They are social creatures and I saw many of them jostling and goofing around together, and they will come over the fences to have a look at you while you’re having a look at them.
The Donkey Sanctuary also has a well stocked gift shop with a great selection of toys and books (for children and adults). You can also adopt (sponsor, really) a donkey and receive updates over the course of the year about him or her as well as a newsletter from the Sanctuary.
On a future trip, I’d love to explore the possibility of volunteering there. From all appearances, it’s a clean, bright, well tended place and the animals appear to have a great quality of life there.