Have you met The Donkey Sanctuary?

Have you met The Donkey Sanctuary?

26 January 2023
The Donkey Sanctuary
Every month, we interview one of our member organisations about their work, main battles and achievements for animals. This month we are pleased to interview Dr Joe Collins, Chief Veterinary Advisor (Europe) at The Donkey Sanctuary.
Tell us about your organisation?

Founded over 50 years ago by Dr Elisabeth Svendsen, The Donkey Sanctuary (TDS) works across broad themes and with a global scope. Our work includes rescue and rehoming, donkey assisted activities, academic research (including a wealth of veterinary expertise) and global action through operational partnerships and programmes, campaigns and advocacy. 

As we look to create positive change at scale, our international teams work both directly and increasingly through local partnerships to improve donkey welfare across the world.  For Advocacy and Campaigns, this currently means a particular focus on working equid standards within policy and legislation, promoting greater recognition of the relationship between animal welfare and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and highlighting the threats posed by the donkey skin trade.

In which countries do you work?

The Donkey Sanctuary has its headquarters in Devon in the UK, but our reach is global. Operationally we are active in several EU member states such as Italy, Spain and Ireland as well as further afield, with teams in Mexico and East Africa for example.

Tell us more about you and your role?

I first was engaged by The Donkey Sanctuary in 2014 as a researcher investigating donkey welfare concerns in Ireland – an issue close to my heart - and subsequently held roles as Senior Donkey Welfare Advisor and Chief Veterinary Advocate.

Joe Collins
Dr Joe Collins, Chief Veterinary Advisor (Europe)

I became The Donkey Sanctuary Chief Veterinary Advisor and pre the Covid pandemic I travelled extensively representing The Donkey Sanctuary at events and engagements as far distant as China, India, Mexico, East and South Africa. In more recent times my focus has been more on Europe working, inter alia, as Chair of Eurogroup for Animals Equines Working Group and chair of the Equine Group within the EU Commission’s Platform on Animal Welfare. But the issues that The Donkey Sanctuary is involved with are global in nature and I am enthusiastic about assisting where-ever I can best be put to good use.

When and why did you join Eurogroup for Animals?

The Donkey Sanctuary became a member in 2014 and our then Director of Operations Andy Foxcroft served as vice chair of the Equines Working Group. He brought me to that particular table as The Donkey Sanctuary representative and I succeeded Andy as vice-chair. The Donkey Sanctuary has long believed in partnerships and in working in collaboration with like-minded persons and organisations – this is the strength of Eurogroup for Animals. As is said in Irish - ‘ní neart go cur le chéile’ - succinctly meaning ‘stronger together’ - we achieve more when working in unity.

What are your organisations main achievements?

In some European countries The Donkey Sanctuary continues to run extensive operations working tirelessly to improve donkey and mule welfare through active support, rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming programmes for animals in need, consistently encouraging better evidence-based standards of care. More globally we promote these standards through innovative education and training programmes, including the development of an extensive e-library of knowledge, widely disseminated to the owners/keepers of equids but also those who provide services such as veterinary, farriery and dental care.

One of our major Campaigns activities is the publishing of The Global Trade in Donkey Skins report series. Although  The Donkey Sanctuary has previously highlighted the shocking scale of the donkey skin trade in our Under The Skin publications, two new reports released in 2022 emphasise its pervasive effects, including as a ‘trojan horse’ for wildlife trafficking and the significant biosecurity risks to both human and animal health.  A companion report presenting the challenges and implications of donkey farming has also been launched, answering not only questions regarding equine welfare but also economic viability in the face of a voracious and unsustainable trade. These reports were presented and made available to key stakeholders across multiple countries at the Pan African Donkey Conference in Tanzania in December.

Working alongside governments and partners, The Donkey Sanctuary has contributed to the increasing global recognition of the importance of working animal welfare, most notably at the United Nations.  Examples such as the forthcoming Animal Welfare–Environment–Sustainable Development Nexus report and adoption of new language on working animals (and their protection) within the recent Agriculture Development, Food Security and Nutrition resolution serve to emphasise the importance of working equids to sustainable human livelihoods and we continue our engagement with supportive member states and UN partners to ensure that donkey and mule welfare remains a prominent consideration within wider frameworks, such as the Sustainable Development Goals.

How can people support you?

As a charity, we rely on our supporters - a significant way to support the work of The Donkey Sanctuary is through donation, be that adopting a donkey, leaving a legacy, undertaking fundraising activities or playing a weekly lottery.  During economically uncertain times, there is often both a greater need for our services but also a reduced funding base, so every contribution helps.

The giving of your most valuable time is also a much appreciated investment and volunteering for The Donkey Sanctuary can support a wide range of teams, with opportunities for short term or seasonal visitor engagement roles and longer term commitment in areas such as animal care or conservation.

But everyone can act for donkeys without the cost of time, money or indeed much effort - something everyone can do is to rethink the language we use about them.  Although a familiar but regrettable word association for many of us, donkeys’ reputation as ‘stubborn’ is not well founded. In response to stress, animals (including ourselves!) exhibit elements of the 3-Fs – flight, fight and freeze but in proportions that vary with the species and the individual. Donkeys are no less sensitive than other equines, they just mask their emotions more. Compared to horses, donkeys exhibit more freeze and fight, less flight - so it’s best to ask and then allow time for reflection, not rush into trying to make ‘obstinate’ donkeys do something – especially if it’s something you consider desirable but they might not! Research suggests that certain language choices can hinder true reflections of donkey character and behaviour, with real-life implications for their welfare. So, we would encourage people to think, and talk, about donkeys as the sensitive, sentient beings they are.

Words to live by?

It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”
Harry S. Truman, US President
They are not stubborn, they are simply intelligent: you can tell a horse what to do and force it to obey. But you have to negotiate with a donkey."
Dr Svendsen, much loved founder of The Donkey Sanctuary, believed that the donkey's reputation for stubbornness is entirely unfounded