A Tale of Two Brothers: Simon and Alvin

(Originally published in the 2019 Summer Donor Newsletter)

Simon and Alvin arrived at the Sanctuary farm just over a year ago, a week before our Donor Appreciation Day in 2018. You may have seen them on the hill in Halfway Haven, hesitant to approach the fence. 

Simon and Alvin were originally rescued by a DSC supporter who had seen them at an auction and felt drawn to the animals. Many donkeys at auction have been left to fend for themselves for most of their lives. They frequently show signs of neglect like overgrown hooves, untreated injuries, and apprehension toward human contact. 

Though Alvin and Simon seemed manageable from afar while at auction, once they arrived at their new home they started exhibiting natural, yet aggressive jack behaviour. This can be a challenge for even very experienced donkey owners. Their unpredictable and dominant behaviour was exacerbated by their lack of training or human contact. It became clear to their new owner that they were too aggressive for her to handle, but she knew that if she sold them, they would eventually end up back at auction. Her only hope to save their lives was to contact the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada.

When Simon and Alvin arrived at the DSC, staff could immediately see that significant rehabilitation was required before they could be integrated into the rest of our pace. The first step towards rehabilitation, as with all DSC jacks, was castration commonly called gelding. 

After gelding, and while on their own in quarantine, Simon and Alvin showed little aggression toward each other. Their injuries from the stockyards and gelding incisions healed without complication, indicating that they could be integrated into the gelding paddock soon. 

When new animals are integrated to our main pace, we anticipate that there will be some upheaval in the existing group. The emotional wellbeing of the new donkey is closely monitored and staff will make a change, if necessary. 

However, when Alvin and Simon were integrated, their behaviour reverted back to aggressive jack behaviour. Though they are not older donkeys, they had been intact for nearly a decade prior to their arrival at the Sanctuary. The longer that a donkey lives without being gelded, the more likely it is that they retain their dominant jack behaviour, long-term. The remaining testosterone in their system, along with a habit of aggressive behaviour lead to constant fighting between Alvin and Simon. 

The donkeys were becoming a danger to not only themselves but volunteers and staff. Their unpredictable and rough behaviour eventually led to a minor staff injury. Every paddock at the Sanctuary was housing a group of animals, so complete separation from the rest of the population was not an option. With their behaviour escalating, something needed to be done. 

We moved Simon to the barnyard, but despite being separated from Alvin, his behaviour remained too rough for our sensitive animals in that area. Our only other space to place him temporarily was with the mules. While this wasn’t an issue for our mules, it wasn’t ideal for Simon. 

Alvin’s behaviour had improved since being separated from Simon, but was still too rough for a large pace of geldings. We needed to come up with better solutions. If their behaviour did not change, we would need to heavily sedate them to give them the medical care they required, which comes at a high risk to any animal.

While attending the Donkey Welfare Symposium last November, DSC staff learned about a technique that had helped donkeys in similar situations to Alvin and Simon. Despite the cost of up to $2500 per animal, we were determined to give them the best chance possible of a long and healthy life. 

So using this technique for the first time in Sanctuary history, we administered a schedule of synthetic progesterone. Originally used in equine mares to control their cycles, progesterone also works against the testosterone in recently gelded animals. 

For the duration of their progesterone treatment, and until their behaviour improved, Alvin and Simon had to remain separated. Though they seemed excitable around the jennets, the trigger for their most dominant and aggressive behaviour was each other. The two donkeys spent the summer and winter away from each other, settling into their personalities while apart. 

After five months of hormone therapy and adjusting to life at the DSC, Simon was re-introduced to our gelding group, where Alvin had spent his time receiving treatment. Since then, Alvin and Simon have formed a new relationship as they learn to share space together again. For the first few days of their reunion, the two geldings displayed some of their old jack behaviour, but it subsided and they are beginning to fit into the day-to-day of the gelding paddock routine. The addition of hormone therapies has proven successful and invaluable here at the Sanctuary, but Alvin and Simon still have a long road ahead of them. They’ll need many hours with our donkey trainers before they will be fully rehabilitated. 

Stories like Alvin and Simon’s are usually left untold, often because they are quietly sold at auction - and because there are so few people with the expertise, time and resources to help them. Alvin and Simon are healthy animals who were simply not handled or trained and without intervention, these two likely would not be alive today. Untrained animals often end up at auction; a place where donkeys with behavioural issues can be purchased cheaply by abattoirs.

Simon and Alvin are two of the lucky ones, enjoying their new life in Sanctuary, becoming better behaved with each training session. The methods that we’ve learned to use with aggressive jacks have given donkeys like Alvin and Simon hope for a new life where they will not only survive, but eventually thrive. The training and treatments that we give Alvin, Simon and the rest of the animals in Sanctuary are only available because of loyal, caring donors. With their support, these forgotten equine have been given a second chance at life.

To sponsor Simon or Alvin and help us manage their specialized needs, click to our sponsorship page.

Two White Donkeys in a Field

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