When Sandra Pady relocated to the Guelph countryside from Toronto with her husband Dave more than 20 years ago, the last thing they imagined or expected was to establish a donkey sanctuary. But due to their generosity, The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada (DSC) is thriving as a not-for-profit 100-acre refuge serving as home for more than 60 equines.
“When we take in any animals, we offer them lifelong care,” says Pady, 67. “Our donkeys have the opportunity for all the exercise they need because we have very large fields and they graze in them.
“Equines whether they’re horses or donkeys are animals that like to move around a lot. And the ideal situation for them is if they graze and move around. The animals go in and out of their barns as they wish, so long as it’s warmer than -7 degrees Centigrade, they’d really rather be outside. A donkey can live well beyond 30 years in an adequate climate.”
More importantly, the animal can live in a safe and sound environment; unlike many of the situations Pady’s pace found themselves in prior to arriving at the DSC.
“At any given time, we have at least 12 animals waiting to get into the sanctuary,” she explains. “Most people that get equines, whether it’s donkeys or horses, find that if they don’t want to care for them or can’t care for them, they just want to get rid of them as fast as they can. So they offer them for sale or they offer them to friends, and if they aren’t successful that way, the only option is for the donkeys are auctions.
“At the equine auctions, if there isn’t a buyer when the animals come up for sale, they are sold for meat. So we are here to step into that vicious circle in our own way. We’re not anxious to see that happen.”
Although Pady’s detour into donkey rescue was unexpected, she was convinced of her calling early.
“All of my life I’ve been interested in issues of animal welfare,” Pady states. “After we moved from central Toronto to the farm, I knew I would be taking care of animals. Unexpectedly, three animals came into my life and I became enamoured with them. Several months later, I became aware of one donkey sitting all by himself, living at the back of the barn where there was no care whatsoever.
“I managed to get him and take him in. I heard of two others going to auction and I woke up one day and I had six donkeys. That’s when I became aware of the equine sanctuaries in London [Ontario]. I contacted them and asked what they did and I decided to start a sanctuary. It was as simple as that.”
Pady says the upkeep of one healthy donkey usually averages $1300 a year.
“Often people take them in and they don’t really anticipate it’s going to cost them that much,” she explains. “And if there are any unexpected illnesses, you have vet bills of several thousand dollars.”
Open annually May through Thanksgiving — and to the public on Sundays and Wednesdays — the DSC’s annual budget runs approximately $600,000 a year, with 100 percent of operating funds donated by “average people who hear about our work.”
“They come to the farm, they see the donkeys and they make donations,” notes Pady.
While the DSC is home to 59 donkeys and 9 mules, the Guelph headquarters isn’t the only venue to host the animals: 40 more live on 16 farms scattered throughout Southern Ontario, as part of the Foster Farm network that Pady also helped initiate.
“Farms apply to become part of the network,” says Pady. “If they are accepted, animals are placed in pairs on a kind of a long-term loan.”
The farms are monitored, however, and if there’s any sign of improper care, “we confiscate them,” Pady reassures.
The DSC also hosts fundraisers to help with costs. The most popular one is the annual Donkey Day, which was held this year on June 12 and raised $21,000.
“Our annual Donkey Day happens on the second Sunday in June and we call it ‘An afternoon in the country for animal lovers of all ages,’” says Pady. “This year, we had 2000 people come to the farm, with entertainers, demonstrations and crafts and lots of opportunities for people to be with animals. It’s like an old-fashioned country festival, and the purpose of it is to highlight the animals and their characteristics, and all that they do that is so wonderful.”
From August 17-20, Pady and the DSC is debuting something new: the first annual Donkey Holiday.
“It will be a two-and-a-half-day experience that is ‘donkey, donkey, donkey,’” Pady explains. ”There will be lunches, dinners and lectures, a visit to the Ontario Vet College Clinic, and other activities. The $560 fee will include all the activities, meals and transportations, although guests will have to pay for their own accommodation.”
Pady says the DSC is currently building a larger barn on the premises.
“We want to reach the point where we can take care of 75 donkeys or so.”
Pady says the reason organizations like DSC exist is due in part to human arrogance.
“We have this attitude that animals can be disposable, that we have the option to buy them and own them for a while, and then get rid of them. It happens with every single animal that there is. We have a zillion cats out there that need homes. It happens because humans assume the right to use these animals however they want to.”
Pady says in the 20 years she’s helped protect the animal, the donkey has taught her a life lesson or two.
“More than anything else, their Zen-like nature,” she explains. “Donkeys -- and all animals for that matter -- live in the moment. They don’t worry about what’s coming up and they don’t worry about what’s passed. Something happens and then it’s over. Living with them, I have come to understand the importance of living in the moment, and when I’m with them, that’s exactly what I do. They are very soothing animals.”
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