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Hidden Gem: This sanctuary gives donkeys and mules a new lease on life

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This is part of an ongoing summer series. Come back each week to learn about another hidden gem.

The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada has been a safe space for surrendered or neglected animals for more than 30 years.

Located in Puslinch, Ont., the donkey and mule farm was started in 1992 by Sandra Pady.

“There were circumstances that led to Sandra taking in three donkeys and she absolutely fell in love with them,” executive director Janine Holman explained. “Not too long after this, there were other donkeys that she learned about in the area that were in need of rescue and in need of a good, loving and safe home. So she took in those donkeys as well.”

Pady was inspired by a donkey sanctuary in England, which prompted her to officially launch her own. It’s been a registered charity since 1992.

The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada in Puslinch on June 20, 2024. (Stefanie Davis/CTV News)

Holman said there are many misconceptions about donkeys that the sanctuary works to combat through guided public tours and open house days.

“They’re what we refer to as the forgotten species,” she explained. “Over the millennium, donkeys have served mankind in so many ways, and over the millennium, they’ve been very mistreated.”

She described the animals as very gentle and stoic.

“It’s very peaceful being in the presence of a donkey,” Holman said. “There’s just a sense of goodness. There’s a sense of peace. Many people will say donkeys are stubborn or stupid, but they really are not. They’re very smart and that sense of stubbornness that we interpret is simply the donkey watching out for itself. Its sense of self-preservation comes through.”

Janine Holman, the executive director of The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada, in Puslinch, Ont. on June 20, 2024. (Stefanie Davis/CTV News)

There are currently about 112 donkeys living at the sanctuary, with about 60 more who are living on “host farms.”

“That’s a specific group of farms that are qualified through our application process to be able to care for donkeys,” Kayla Johnson, host farm and education manager, said.

She explained that because the farm is limited on space, and some donkeys don’t thrive in a public atmosphere, host farms have been a way to give animals the most appropriate care.

“The only way that we can relieve space is by finding qualified homes in the community that can maybe support our mission by having one or two of our donkeys on the farm,” Johnson added. “I can’t say that the sanctuary isn’t the best place on earth, because I believe that it is. But at the same time, there’s many donkeys that exist here that have unique needs of care, even beyond group housing. Many donkeys who have come [are] very abused and maybe don’t enjoy the public open day setting.”

The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada in Puslinch, Ont. on June 20, 2024. (Stefanie Davis/CTV News)

While public education is a major part of what the sanctuary does, their priority remains the animals.

“I think that’s what makes us beautiful,” Johnson said. “Even as a public place for people to visit, we put the needs of the animals first.”

The sanctuary hosts its open houses on Sundays and guided tours can be booked separately.

A day specifically for seniors is scheduled on Tuesday, July 9.

Operating only on donations and admission fees, staff say they’re always happy to teach more people about donkeys and mules.

“Especially in this day and age, there seems to be such a disconnect between people and nature. This is a way to reconnect, and I think that’s very important,” Holman said. “Anybody who spends any time with donkeys will realize they’re pretty special creatures.”

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