At 31-years-old, when the time had come where she was no longer strong enough to work, elderly donkey Anastasia was left to suffer in what must have been unbearable conditions – literally being eaten alive by maggots. But Anastasia proved she still had a tremendous amount of strength in her and pulled through with our help and a kind neighbour.
Anastasia had been kept hobbled – a method where legs are tied together to restrict movement and stop the donkey from straying – but the hobbles were too tight and made of harsh metal chains, which had caused Anastasia deep and painful wounds on her forelegs. To add to her suffering, the wounds left untreated had become infected and were crawling with maggots. On closer inspection, the vet discovered that the infection had spread up her entire left side, and maggots were present from her hoof to the top of her shoulder.
It must have been absolutely unbearable for poor Anastasia. She was clearly in pain, and we had no idea just how long she had been in this terrible state.
Marta – a donkey champion
We were made aware of Anastasia’s plight by a kind-hearted lady called Marta. Marta lived in a nearby village to where Anastasia was being kept, and recognised that she was in need of desperate help. Marta contacted our sanctuary in Spain to say how she was upset by the condition of the donkey, and that when she spoke to the owner he had said that either Marta was to take Anastasia off his hands immediately or he would “get rid of her”.
Concerned at what the owner might do before the authorities could reach her, Marta rescued Anastasia herself, without the proper facilities or means to look after her, in order to get her out of where she was and for her to get necessary veterinary attention. Marta reached out for our help, and donkey welfare adviser Nicky Cohen, along with a team of staff including vets were quick to respond.
Easing the pain
The vet clipped her entire left side to enable a thorough clean and disinfect to treat the maggot infested area. Anastasia received a course of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication to ease the swelling and clear the infection. She was visibly underweight, and blood samples taken showed that her kidneys and liver had been affected by being so malnourished. Her left ear was bent and floppy, and looked as though it had been damaged at some point in her life. After a thorough assessment, the vet decided that Anastasia was not well enough to make the two hour journey back to our sanctuary, and that she would need to stay with Marta until she became fit enough to travel.
We contracted the vet to attend to Anastasia whilst she was at Marta’s home, and supported Marta by providing advice on how to care for her and signs to watch out for in case her health deteriorated, as Marta had no previous donkey experience. Marta did an excellent job, and within a week the vet confirmed Anastasia was fit enough to travel.
Nicky and Monica, a groom from our sanctuary arrived back at Marta’s property to collect Anastasia and to bring her into our care. Nicky said: “Anastasia was very calm and did not react to all the hustle and bustle around her. In fact, she would not move at all when we wanted to take her out of Marta’s garden! For such an elderly lady she has an incredible amount of strength and resilience. It took us a good hour and a lot of convincing to get her to leave the safety of the garden and to walk onto the trailer – we could fully understand why she might be wary, but she trusted us in the end.”
Nicky also added: “We felt very happy that we had managed to get her out of there and proud of the way that Marta had looked after her. We managed to work together fluidly to change this donkey’s life. Looking into Anastasia’s wise old eyes I felt ashamed and a deep sadness that the human race had let her down for so long and hoped that we could restore a little of her faith in humanity now.”
Trying to give her the life she deserves
After arriving into our sanctuary in Spain the first week of May, Anastasia spent the next few weeks receiving the very best care from our staff.
Monica who has been looking after Anastasia said: “She seems to be relaxed and content, loving her special feed and has enjoyed moments of affection from members of staff when giving her a cuddle and a scratch. Everyone has expressed how amazing and patient she was when treating her skin. Her health has improved and she is recovering as well as can be expected for her age.”
Her skin had healed and she was enjoying her food, but staff were still concerned about Anastasia’s poor overall body condition, and that something just wasn’t right.
Now at a place where we could carry out more extensive tests and fully assess her health, out vet Guillermo made an upsetting discovery. The bones in her neck were so deteriorated due to arthritis, they were putting pressure on her spinal cord. This was causing her continual pain as well as impacting on her locomotor/musculoskeletal system.
Poor Anastasia had fought so hard already, and the fact that she was still dealing with so much pain was hard for everyone to take. But this was sadly one battle that she would never win, and the decision was made that putting her to sleep would be the kindest thing to do.
Staff were heartbroken to have to say goodbye to their beautiful new friend. There was, however, some comfort in knowing that they had shown Anastasia the love, kindness and care she deserved, and made her last few weeks as nice as could possibly be for her.
Quality of life
Donkeys have evolved to mask signs of pain, so careful attention must be paid to detect signs of a donkey in pain. As old age ensues painful conditions become more common, such as arthritis, dental disease, foot problems and compromised breathing. A donkey’s quality of life may gradually deteriorate and requires very careful and objective monitoring.
If we cannot restore health and happiness to that donkey then the last and best thing we can do is to euthanise. This decision is never taken lightly and does not get easier but we are confident that we make the decision at the right time and consider euthanasia to be one of the best welfare tools in the vet’s toolbox.
Euthanasia here is a peaceful, loving process with the donkey surrounded by their donkey and people friends being fed whatever they love to eat (usually ginger biscuits) and they are not usually even aware of the small needle going in to inject an overdose of anaesthetic. It is a quick, painless end of a life that was no longer as good as it should be.
It is always a sad time for our staff, who are incredibly passionate about the donkeys – especially the ones they care for. They remain strong knowing that euthanasia was the kindest thing to do, and that there are other donkeys who still depend upon us for their health and happiness.
We can only continue to rescue and care for donkeys with your help, so please continue to support the work of El Refugio del Burrito, as together, we can make a big difference.