48 Donkeys Rescued From ‘Hell’ at Italian Farm


Local authorities called upon our Italian sanctuary, Il Rifugio degli Assinelli, to assist them with a large-scale prosecution, which involved urgently seizing donkeys from the Alessandria farm at which they were being kept for the legal meat market.

Although the donkeys were removed from their insufferable conditions at the farm and placed in a holding base, their lives were still at risk – including a number of foals and pregnant mares. The owner was required to pay €8,000 a month for their temporary care, but under Italian law he could instead request that the animals be released for slaughter.

The fate of the 48 innocent animals was under immensely time-sensitive pressure – so we turned to our Italian supporters for urgent help.

Rescue donkeys running at Italian holding base after their rescue. With fresh food, space to run and each others’ company, the donkeys were able to recuperate in an emergency holding based before meeting their new carers.

Supporters step up

An urgent appeal on social media called for ‘donkey caretakers’ to take on the animals, with the offer of advice, information and assistance with their management. Thanks to the kindness and proactivity of our supporters in Italy, the sanctuary has since been inundated with offers of support and accommodation for the donkeys – thus saving the donkeys from a far worse fate.

Rachele Torato from our Italian sanctuary has praised the generosity of these supporters and the power of social media:

“The response has been incredible; as soon as we posted the appeal, we started receiving dozens of phone calls from people giving their availability to become caretakers. For an entire week our phone rang incessantly. We asked for caretakers in northern Italy, where the donkeys were, so not to stress them further with long trips, but we also received requests from all over the country.

“There are not enough words to thank all those people. In three weeks, the donkeys were safe and sound at their caretakers’ homes.”

Muzzles of the rescued donkeys at the holding base.

Zara, Moro, Minto, Silvio and Bruno

While the vast majority of the donkeys – including pregnant mares – were thankfully in good enough physical condition to be rehomed, this was not the case for all of them. It was clear that five donkeys in particular needed to be taken into sanctuary in order to receive the urgent care they required.

Dr Luca Merlone started work immediately to treat wounds, medicate against parasites, and carry out tests, including one to assess their blood. The results showed that their diet had been too poor or even non-existent before, and too rich when they were first rescued, so each one has had a tailor-made diet designed for them to rebalance their blood levels.

Zara and Moro were the first pair to catch the attention of the Italian rescuers at the farm; isolated from the others, this mare and foal had shaggy hair covering their skeletal bodies, shortness of breath, and pulmonary problems. They were tired and scared but still able to show each other signs of mutual love and attention.

Rescued donkey Silvio had health problems as a result of a lack of hoof care.

X-rays showed Silvio to have osteoarticular lesions (muscle infections) in her feet as a consequence of the previous lack of hoof care. Dr Merlone added: “There is a chronic inflammation of the internal structures of the foot, but – fortunately – to an extent not irreversible yet. With appropriate farrier interventions we should be able to obtain an improvement or at least block the degenerative process.”

Silvio is suspicious and fearful and sticks close to Minto, a large grey donkey who is curious and sociable. Minto needed to be taken into the care of the sanctuary because no-one wanted to be the caretaker of an extra large stallion.

Bruno, on the other hand, is a tiny donkey with patchy, stringy hair and breathing difficulties. When the team read his microchip, they couldn’t believe he was only two-and-a-half years old, such was the sorry state of his body and hooves. His short life has not been kind to him so far.

Keeping positive for the 48 friends

Staff and supporters in Italy are doing all they can to help the donkeys forget their difficult past and start afresh.

Rachele adds: “We are optimistic for their health and mind conditions, and for the legal procedure involving their owner as well. What we can promise them is that we will do the best we can to make them forget their past and show them how beautiful life can be. The first time I met them, their eyes looked empty and told a story of resignation. Now they shine again and we are ready to write together a story of hope and re-birth.”

Featured image: the rescued donkeys eat at the holding base after their rescue. This image and all images in this story credited to Il Rifugio degli Assinelli.

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About Author

The Donkey Sanctuary was founded by the late Dr Elisabeth Svendsen M.B.E. in 1969. We support projects to alleviate the suffering of donkeys in 35 countries worldwide, including sanctuaries across Europe, where more than 18,800 donkeys and mules have been cared for, and major projects in Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Kenya and Mexico, where donkey welfare is improved through community education and veterinary work. We also provide donkey assisted interaction sessions for vulnerable children and adults and carry out visits to care homes in the local community from our centres in Belfast, Birmingham, Ivybridge, Leeds, Manchester and Sidmouth. For further information telephone: 01395 578222, view www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk or visit the charity’s headquarters near Sidmouth in Devon (open 365 days/free admission). Click to see author's profile.

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