I’ve always had this warmth towards donkeys. I love all animals but for some inexplicable reason donkeys have always been special and I know I’m not alone in that. I have no connection to them other than seeing them dotted around fields in rural Ireland minding their own business. With their heads looking over an old stone wall they always remind me of an elderly gentleman looking for a chat. It works, seeing them always gets the same reaction, if I’m in the car I want to immediately pull over and go talk to them.
So when the opportunity came to do some photography for my local Donkey Sanctuary I was all over it. Now my vision of what a Donkey Sanctuary would be like and the reality was as far apart as the North and South rim of the Grand Canyon. That’s to say miles apart. I thought there would be some kind of old rundown barn with donkeys milling about a yard or field with someone on hand to tend to them. Man, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The Sanctuary is a new modern building on a 13-acre site, it’s an impressive building. And yes there are fields for the donkeys to mill about in as well. But it’s not just for the donkeys. They have a large indoor and outdoor play area for children. It appears to be a very popular place for school visits, no real shock there!
As well as looking after the donkeys which I’ll come to in a moment, they also have a life skills development program. Now I’m not going to pretend to know anything about this so I’d suggest you visit their website, here’s a link to find out more information. All I know is that it’s an incredibly popular program.
As for the donkeys, from what I’ve seen on my few visits these guys are treated like the thoroughest (not sure that’s even a word) of thoroughbreds. They get their feet checked every day, if they get wet they get towelled down. They get all the love and attention bestowed on them they can handle. I think it’s fair to say these donkeys don’t have carers, they have staff! It’s easy to see that for the ‘staff’ that look after these guys it’s not a job but a vocation. They talk to them and about them in a way that you would with a close relative or friend. They know their personalities, their likes and dislikes. I’m not entirely sure they don’t take them home at night!!
We had an initial meeting to discover what we could do and to set out some objectives. Mainly they were to help raise awareness and hopefully raise some funds with the sale of some fine art prints of pictures I was to take of the donkeys. I knew this would be a challenge, but one I was more than ready and able for. As a photographer people often quote back to me ‘ah never work with animals and children’ and it’s true, it is a challenge. But rarely in life is there much fulfilment derived from the easy option. Though if I’m being honest my time photographing these gentle souls was incredibly rewarding and, well… just plain old fun. So much so, that I have, without hesitation, volunteered to go back and shoot pictures for their Facebook and social media on a regular basis. It’s going to be a tough gig.
By the time I’ve gotten around to writing this, I’ve delivered the framed prints to the Donkey Sanctuary Belfast. They have auctioned off three of the six images and to be honest they have raised more money than I ever thought possible!! I really couldn’t be happier that my photography has made even the tiniest difference to a worthwhile organisation. As well as the framed prints I’m also donating 12.5% from the sales of the images on my site, click here to visit my print shop.
One thing that was pointed out to me early on was the misconception that donkeys are stubborn, nope, they’re just ‘deep thinkers!’ So next time I’m called stubborn I’ll just replace it with words with, deep thinker. Works for me.