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The Donkey Sanctuary

Based in Sidmouth, Devon the Donkey Sanctuary has been looking after the welfare of donkeys and mules all over the world for nearly 50 years. Founded by British animal welfare advocate Dr Elisabeth Svendsen MBE as a charity in 1969, the mission has always been to help abused and homeless donkeys.

The Donkey Sanctuary

Yorkshire-born Dr Svendsen devoted her life to improving the lives of donkeys and mules (donkey and horse hybrids). She worked hard to help them live a life free from suffering, and in a world where their value to society was recognised.

Born in 1930, she became fascinated with donkeys when she was eight. During a family day out to St Annes, in Lancashire, her dad drove past a field of donkeys and she immediately adored them. From there on in, every time she went out in the car with her dad, he had to take a detour so she could see the donkeys again.

In the late 1960s and now a successful businesswoman, Dr Svendsen decided to open a donkey sanctuary - she chose the Salston Hotel at Ottery St Mary as an ideal location. Although the large country house had eight acres of land, it was run down, but she managed to renovate it into the sanctuary which opened in 1969. She rescued neglected, abused and abandoned donkeys from everywhere and nursed them back to health.

Over the years, the sanctuary has rescued more than 15,500 donkeys and mules from across the UK, Ireland and from Europe – it has given them a lifelong home and the love and attention they deserve.

In 1980, Dr Svendsen became a Member of the Order of the British Empire and in 2001, she was given the prestigious Lord Erskine Award by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for her invaluable work. Although she died in 2011 at the age of 81, her legacy lives on in the shape of the sanctuary.

Thanks to her lifelong campaigning for the animals, the Donkey Sanctuary has grown into an international charity, which has also had a positive impact on thousands of children who have taken part in riding therapy.

The charity's global work ensures millions of donkeys around the world lead cruelty-free lives, as people realise their value and learn how to care for them properly. As well as rescuing donkeys and giving them a permanent home, the sanctuary's worldwide initiative assists people who rely on donkeys, such as in communities where they carry water, food, firewood and other essential items to the home. It also helps donkeys who work for people delivering goods, whose livelihood depends on them.

A lack of proper veterinary care or insufficient money to pay a farrier or for repairs to broken and worn harnesses can mean working donkeys will suffer. The Donkey Sanctuary liaises with local charities to ensure the health of working and feral donkeys improves, and that their status becomes more highly-valued, to ensure they have a better quality of life.

The Donkey Sanctuary is open to visitors from 9am until dusk, 365 days a year. It is recognised as a centre of excellence for its standards of donkey care and welfare projects.

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