Donkeys by the dozens

By James Arbuthnott

JACKS and Jennies (that would be he and she donkeys) have been in Australia since the 1800s and Goulburn Valley is no exception, with wild mules and donkeys around Barmah State Forest, and the animals are still used today as herd guardians and pets.

But the butts of so many jokes are now considered a pest and because of their long lifespan, domestic donkeys are often released or killed by their owners.

Tongala Donkey Shelter was started in 1997 by May Dodd to help orphaned, abandoned and mistreated donkeys. Her privately owned land in Diamond Creek and Tongala is now home to more than 200 donkeys coming from various circumstances.

“There’s no criteria to come here — all you have to be is a donkey, there’s no age limit or health limit,” said assistant Jess Smeaton.

“We used to have a minimum of 25 donkeys a year from domestic situations, but now since the wild donkeys have exploded, we get more than 25 a year, and if a female comes in wild they’re generally pregnant, that’s how the numbers have really exploded.”

The shelter is holding an open day on Sunday, December 1 to raise money for the not-for-profit organisation and to expel some popular myths about the animals we love to make fun of.

“I like showing people the donkeys and changing their perception — I didn’t know anything about them before I started working with them,” Jess said.

“Donkeys have a high sense of self-preservation, so you get a new donkey, you put a halter on its head and a rope, and you ask it to walk — that donkey doesn’t know what you’re doing or what you want.

“That donkey’s response to new stimuli is to stand still, so they’re not going to do anything until they feel safe — you can actually reason with a donkey and the more you bully them, the more they will stand still.

“You might be heaving and hoeing, putting all your might into it, but then if you step back then the donkey may think ‘all right, I’ll go'.”

Donkeys are also used as therapy animals at the shelter.

“They love hanging out, playing, they play all the time — they have a good life, we hope they do,” Jess said.

“We get a lot of people as anyone does in a big rescue saying ‘oh they’re just a number in a crowd’ but they’re not really. They do benefit when they get their own one-on-one people and they all have their own friends — everyone has a bestie. They partner up.

“Most donkeys have a best friend they will mutual groom with, hang out with, they’ll eat with, stand next to and sleep with. We’ve got boy and girlfriends, we get mother and daughter and mother and sons.

“Horses have a hierarchy and a boss horse whereas donkeys, we’re all friends and we all hang out together.”

The Donkey Shelter Tongala has an annual running cost of $250,000 a year, fees which include farriers, dentists, shelter and vaccinations, as well as May’s rescuing wild mules from Echuca saleyards mustered in the Northern Territory and remote areas in Victoria.

The December 1 Open Day runs from 11am until 3pm at 1949 Matheson Rd, Tongala. Entry is $20 per car and includes a sausage sizzle, tea, coffee and cake, donkey stalls and guided tours of the shelter.

For enquiries call 5859 1410 or email [email protected]