Donkeys at Christmas
Take a look around The Flicka Foundation, the sanctuary giving love and comfort this Christmas and beyond to donkeys who’ve had a rough start in life
ake a peek at those adorable little faces! A motley crew looking forward to one of the best Christmases they’ve ever had, surrounded by friends, with two legs and four, lots of love and plenty of treats! From naughty donkeys to knowit-all donkeys, cheeky ones to kind-hearted ones, every single donkey at The Flicka Foundation has its own beautiful personality but each, sadly, also has a sorry tale to tell of their past.
For friends Judy Giles and Laurie Stephenson, who run The Flicka
TFoundation in Cornwall, caring for donkeys came about somewhat accidentally.
It all started when Judy’s mum, Mary Berryman, began a foundation caring for horses and ponies in 1995 which life-long animal lovers Judy and her friend Laurie soon started helping out with. But it was in 2008 after the sad passing of Mary that Judy received a phone call that changed everything.
“My mum had always loved donkeys and, as a child, I used to buy her little donkey trinkets to put around the house. But, sadly, we never got any donkeys into the sanctuary. “When mum died, the heart of the charity had left us and we were ready to call it a day and put the site of the sanctuary up for sale when we got a phone call from an animal welfare organisation asking if we could take in five donkeys. It gave us goosebumps and without even thinking we said yes and we cancelled the sale of the sanctuary. I felt like this was my mum’s way of saying don’t stop what you’re doing. When we took in these donkeys, I renamed the sanctuary Mary Berryman’s Flicka Foundation in Mum’s honour.”
Today, the Foundation cares for around 75 donkeys with a further 30-odd placed in loving foster homes nearby. The donkeys come from Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Spain, America, France, the UK and Ireland and sadly all arrive as the result of abandonment, neglect or cruelty.
Often they are saved on their way to the meat market, or brought in from the likes of rubbish tips.
Once at the Flicka Foundation donkeys have a home for life, or if they’re fit and well enough, they will go to an approved foster home with a bonded friend. Donkeys notoriously bond for life. If a single donkey arrives the Flicka team will help this process along if necessary. “We had one donkey called Florence who’d been abandoned without company. We also had another donkey called Maisy who was rescued from going to the market and was terrified of other donkeys, so we introduced them and now they’re best friends.”
Despite their backgrounds, Judy says all the donkeys have hilarious personalities, which makes their job a constant delight.
“Donkeys have an incredible sense of humour and are like little four-year-olds. They often make me laugh, for example pinching the farriers’ tools or pulling out rubber mats from the field shelters and running off with them.
“They’re also very affectionate and rub around you like cats. I think that’s what my mum loved about them – that and the fact they’re so stoic and brave.”
Thanks to this loving nature, these donkeys have brought a lot of comfort to many visitors to the sanctuary, including those with special needs and illness. A few of the donkeys have even been out to schools and nursing homes. “We’ve got one donkey, Harry, who’s happy going in a lift to the upstairs bedrooms in a residential home to reach people who can’t get out. It lifts my heart to see him help people and because donkeys love people, he gets a lot out of it, too.”
As for Judy and Laurie, they get so much from caring for these donkeys, they do it, alongside their staff and volunteers, every day of the year.
‘Donkeys have an incredible sense of humour and are like little four-year-olds. They often make us laugh’
“Christmas Day morning some of our diehard volunteers come in to help and then in the afternoon it’s just myself and Laurie. Because it’s Christmas the donkeys get special treats, including carrots, apples and ginger nuts. We put cards and tinsel around their barns to make it special, too. Earlier in the festive season we also host a carol concert in the barn, where we have a tree and lights.”
And if it ends up a white Christmas? “Well, donkeys don’t really like snow,” laughs Judy. “Sadly, they’re not waterproof as they’re from Africa originally so when it does snow they’ll sometimes go out to see what’s going on but then they very quickly ask to come back in.”
As for the future, Judy and Laurie want to continue Mary’s dream and legacy of helping as many animals as possible. “In an ideal world we shouldn’t need sanctuaries like ours but while we are needed, we just hope we can save more donkeys as there are so many that need our help.”
■ If you’d like to support The Flicka Foundation, please send a cheque payable to The Flicka Foundation to: Penty Noweth Farm, Trenoweth Lane, Mabe Burnthouse, Penryn, Cornwall TR10 9JB or visit www.flickafoundation.org.uk
Judy cuddles up to one of her more distinctive charges
Judy’s mum Mary helped to start the ball rolling by taking in horses and ponies
Harry enjoys the attention when he visits a care home. Below, dedicated helpers with two of their ‘guests’
It’s feeding time and, inexplicably, Laurie is proving popular!