Saving Kingston

(From Summer 2018 Donor Newsletter)

Kingston, who is half mammoth donkey and half Clydesdale horse, is by far the largest animal at the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada. 

He weighs approximately 1500 pounds and is 16 hands tall (5.5 feet at his withers). He's been described as beautiful and majestic by volunteers and visitors, which is fitting both to his size and muscular tone. 

He’s also untrained and almost feral, making him the most difficult animal at the Sanctuary for staff to handle. This means his care is costly and time consuming, taking more resources from the Sanctuary than any of our other animals.

Kingston came from owners who rescued him from a potentially terrible fate, but who couldn’t care for such a large, untrained animal. After ten years with his rescuers and minimal handling or veterinary/farrier care, Kingston was relinquished to the DSC. 

With our current training schedule, it would take 2-3 years before Kingston would be comfortable being handled properly. A mule needs their hooves trimmed every 8 weeks to avoid serious health issues; and with age, regular care becomes more urgent. At 11 years old, it's imperative that Kingston have regular care now. 

We needed a short-term solution that would keep our animal care staff and partners safe while also allowing us to give Kingston essential care. The only safe option for him and his handlers was to sedate him for the short time it takes to trim his hooves. 

The first attempt to trim Kingston’s hooves was a minor success; we used the standard equine sedation procedures and waited for Kingston to become lethargic.

To our surprise, he remained alert and guarded. We increased his dosage of sedation bit by bit, waiting for Kingston to show signs of lethargy until we reached the maximum dose. Finally, Kingston became drowsy and slowly laid down.The farriers went to work quickly, clipping and filing his hooves, checking for infection or other issues.

To our surprise, Kingston was rousing within five minutes. Our farriers rushed to finish their work before he could wake. If the farriers were still working on his hooves when he awakened, Kingston might react out of fear and the staff could have been seriously injured.

We were able to trim all four hooves, but it wasn’t the same high standard of care with which we usually pride ourselves; the hooves were trimmed, but not filed; the feet were seen but not inspected for signs of disease; abnormalities in the leg and hoof were not able to be identified.The amount of sedation required was dangerously high for Kingston.This was far from an ideal hoof trim.

After our first experience treating Kingston, we knew we had an important decision to make.The risk of using the maximum sedation could mean serious injury or even death if his heart suddenly stopped, but the risk of leaving his hooves untreated after ten years without care was also high. We decided to decrease his farrier schedule to every six month instead of every 8 weeks to reduce the frequency of sedation, giving his body time to recuperate between trims. It would also give us more time to train him so that he wouldn’t require such high doses of sedation. We only hoped that his hooves were healthy enough to sustain fewer treatments.

Six months later, we made our second attempt to trim Kingston’s hooves. This time, we knew how much sedation to use and with so little time to work, we asked our full team of staff and farriers to help.

Unfortunately, the sedation was slower to take effect, which allowed Kingston time to understand what was happening. He quickly pulled away from the staff, brayed nervously, and went up on his hind legs, breaking through our brand-new fence.

Once again, he showed his incredible strength - and the risk it poses to himself and our animal care staff.We were lucky that he didn’t seriously injure himself by breaking through the fence boards. 

The animal care staff quickly learned that our new mule would be high risk when handling him during regular veterinary and farrier treatments.

Kingston is not an aggressive mule, but with his tremendous strength and substantial size, he could seriously injure a person simply by moving too quickly when reacting to unwanted handling.

Kingston was eventually sedated, but we had even less time than our previous attempt, before he roused. The trim was, once again far from ideal. The experience reinforced, more than ever the importance of training for animals like Kingston.

With a high risk to animal care staff and the number of staff, veterinarians and farriers needed to attempt a simple hoof trim, Kingston has become our highest risk animal and our most expensive. The cost associated with basic care is exponential when we consider staff time, veterinary and farrier costs and the cost of the sedation. Kingston’s care, for one year could cost more than $7,000, compared to the average cost of $1,500 for a donkey or mule who is moderately trained and Kingston is only one of the animals in our care who requires specialized training.

As we give refuge to an increasing number of vulnerable animals like Kingston, the cost to the Sanctuary grows, and the time it takes from staff increases; but without our intervention, these healthy animals would likely be euthanized or sold for slaughter. We are their only hope for survival.

The importance of investing in life-saving training has never been more urgent. The support of our loyal and generous donors is needed to give these worthy animals the chance they deserve.

Kingston in the Mule Paddock

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The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada is entirely funded by private donations. We have people like you to thank for our continued ability to care for our animals just like Kingston.

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