Little donkey is the star
SHE may only be six months old and stand just 27 inches high, but that is not stopping little donkey Isla from bringing festive joy to hundreds of people this Christmas.
Although she has only been working a few weeks, the miniature Mediterranean donkey is proving quite the little star when she visits care homes, hospitals and schools for cuddles and therapeutic care.
Little Isla belongs to mum-of-two Sara Kelly, who set up her business Alfie the Therapy Horse, in Leicestershire, after seeing how interaction with animals can make a real difference to people’s lives.
“Miniature Mediterranean donkeys are quite hard to come by, but they are perfect for this kind of therapy work because they are just so placid,” said Sara, 48.
“Isla has only been with us five weeks but she’s settling in absolutely fine – her nature is just amazing, in fact, we call her Isla Smiler.
“She’s been on a school visit, where everyone loved her, and we have lots more bookings for Christmas parties, concerts and Nativity plays coming up, which she’ll be attending wearing lots of trimmings including her Santa hat and bells.”
Sara spent a long time looking for the right miniature Mediterranean donkey to join her team and found Isla through a specialist website.
She has been named in memory of seven-year-old Isla Tansey, who lost her life to cancer earlier this year, and whose family Sara’s animals have pre- viously worked with.
Her tiny size – Isla has another six months to go before she will reach her maximum height of about 32 inches – makes her ideal for visiting residential homes and hospitals as she can easily fit into lifts and the bedrooms of patients who are bedbound.
And as well as great fun, her visits to adults and children are providing comfort and helping with memory recall, stimulation and mood enhancement.
She delighted staff, patients and residents when she trotted into Hinckley and Bosworth Community Hospital and Home from Home day care, in Hinckley, recently.
“It’s all about the unconditional love from an animal, when they visit there’s no judgement. People can brush, pet, hug and take pictures with them – whatever they want,” said Sara.
“It’s very emotional watching the connections develop – there’s lots of love, laughter, smiles and joy and for many older people therapy animals can help bring back memories.
“We’ve seen that a lot with former farmers and Land Army workers.”
Animal therapy can also help with coordination and movement through grooming and in other cases has helped people struggling with speech as they try to talk to the creatures.
Sara also owns other therapy ani- mals including Falabellas Alfie and Angel, Shetland pony Pinnochio, Welsh Section A horse Izzy and two sheep, Timmy and Tommy.
She has always been passionate about animals and previously worked as a carer, but decided to combine the two after seeing the positive effect animals had on one of her clients.
“There was one woman who refused to leave her flat, but when I took Alfie for a visit she engaged and we managed to get her out for the first time in three years,” she said.
“Then I started to take Alfie into care homes and it kind of went from there.
“I started doing this full-time about 18 months ago and it is getting really popular.
“It’s wonderful to see the reactions – it just brings such a huge amount of enjoyment to the clients, the animals and me.”