Visiting the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada on the edge of Guelph is to drift into a kinder, gentler world. This is a perfect family trip where you'll discover everything you ever wanted to know about donkeys.
Sandra Pady, who founded the sanctuary with her husband David in 1991, told me, "I found myself caring for three donkeys and from the first I was enamoured by them. These gentle intuitive creatures made me appreciate, as never before, the soothing benefits to be derived from living animals."
Incorporated in 1992 as a registered charity, the sanctuary now has 75 donkeys and nine mules with 30 on approved foster farms.
Katharin Harkins, Executive Director of the sanctuary told me, "About half of the animals are surrendered by owners who find it too hard to care for them; others have been abused or neglected and come to us from humane societies. I always thought of the donkeys as the most misunderstood creature in the world, the forgotten equine; this in our way, is how we thank them. Donkeys can live to be as old as 40 or 50 so this is a long term commitment."
Before you enter the sanctuary there are a few rules. Never stand behind a donkey and always approach the animal from the side. No strollers or dogs are allowed in the barnyard. Absolutely, no food or drink is permitted. And always wash your hands after touching the animals.
A must on any visit is to attend one of the Donkey Talks held at 11:30 a.m., 1:00 and 2:30 p.m.
Here are just a few things we learned from the Donkey talk we attended: Ass: technically, this is the term used to refer to the genus equus asinus; Donkey: a term first used in England to refer to an ass. Most authorities think the name came from the dun (gray-brown) colour and the suffix "key" meaning small. Thus, "a little dun animal", a dun-key; When a male donkey is bred with a female horse, the offspring is called a mule; When a male horse is bred with a female donkey, the offspring is called a hinny.
Kim Hayes, Operations Manager, told me, "This is a soothing place. When visitors spend time here, especially those with children who have never interacted with farm animals before, they realize the importance of these creatures. Once they touch the gentle donkeys, smell and hug them, there's a long-lasting positive impression. And yes, donkeys love to have their ears scratched."
The sanctuary provides lifelong animal care from donations received from visitors and other private donations. They receive no government support, with one exception, a federal grant for one summer student.
As I was leaving the sanctuary I spoke with Julie Stokes from Guelph who had visited for the first time with her two teenage daughters. With a big smile she said, "We were blown away. The staff is friendly and we learned a lot. We've come away with a greater appreciation for these gentle animals." My sentiments exactly.
Admittance to this 40 hectare (100 acre) working farm is free. A donation of $10.00 for an adult or $5.00 for a child is appreciated. Parking is free. The sanctuary relies on a very small staff and about 50 volunteers. Therefore, the sanctuary is only open on Wednesdays and Sundays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The rest of the week is spent caring for the animals. The sanctuary remains open to the public until the end of October. However, they will be open the four Sundays before Christmas and Wednesday, December 23rd.
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George Bailey contributes to Sun Media's 43 paid-circulation newspapers across Canada as well as numerous magazines. George has appeared on CNN, Good Morning America, Canada AM, The Discovery Channel, and Live with Regis and Cathy Lee. He has published five books on Niagara Falls.