Every Donkey Day is Different. Come and discover more about our Farm Worker Grooms and their varied role
It has been a whirlwind two years for groom Mel Burton.
Since joining The Donkey Sanctuary in 2020 on an initial short fixed-term contract, Mel has found herself become a permanent member of the team and is now responsible for care of almost 400 equines at our Brookfield Farm near Honiton.
Every day has presented Mel with a learning opportunity.
One day, she may find herself assisting during donkey dental checks and on another, she is making medicated jam sandwiches for donkeys who require a little extra support.
“I didn’t have any experience with donkeys before I applied,” she says. “I own my horses and used to work on stud farms, so the learning curve wasn’t as steep coming into the charity.
“That being said, I was very surprised at how much there was to learn about donkeys in comparison.
“Thankfully, we have an experienced team of grooms at Brookfield and everyone is willing to teach you skills. It is great to have such a vast amount of expertise in the people you work with.”
As part of her job, Mel has honed her skills in teamwork, communication and has learnt a wealth of behaviour-related information.
She adds: “I feel like I’ve learnt quite a lot from pushing myself to volunteer to take on new roles.”
Since becoming a groom, Mel has developed strong bonds with many donkeys under her care.
One such donkey, E’ore, continues to grow in confidence and trust thanks to Mel’s guiding hand.
With his companion Rocco in tow, Mel began with a series of one-to-one sessions with E’ore in an attempt to build up his confidence and melt away the barriers of mistrust he had put up.aaaaaaa
Mel says: “E’ore had quite a chequered past so arrived at the sanctuary very sceptical of humans.
“Even today, he is quite reserved and still learning to trust people and their intentions. He is certainly becoming more confident in being people’s friend.
“E’ore is my pride and joy. There is still a way to go with him but the donkey he presents as today is unrecognisable from the donkey I first started getting to know.”
With such a varied group of furry personalities, every farm has magic moments.
For Mel, her moment was witnessing for the first time donkeys haring around the gorgeous Devon countryside in the spring sunshine and fresh grass.
She adds: “It’s a warming feeling, there’s something peaceful about seeing so many donkeys have the freedom to roam and explore at their leisure.
“I felt honoured to give them that experience.”
So, what would Mel say to anybody considering applying to be a groom at The Donkey Sanctuary?
“You won’t regret it,” she says. “You’re always going to learn, no matter how much you think you know.
“Being with donkeys on a daily basis means I see a lot of different characters and personalities. I never knew donkeys were such emotional animals.
“It’s rewarding to see so many different sides of equines, no matter what age or background they have come from.”
It has been a magical career working at The Donkey Sanctuary for groom Shelley Magrath.
Having joined the charity in 2009, working with a plethora of different furry characters in our New Arrivals unit, Shelley is now one of the dedicated grooms working at our Woods Farm Sanctuary in Devon.
Each day, she is responsible for the care and wellbeing of 32 donkeys at the farm, which is home to more than 430 donkeys.
The 36-year-old feels privileged to work with such a wonderful array of furry personalities, from bossy brayer Rambo to attention-seeker Eeyore.
“It’s a journey with the donkeys, as well a career,” Shelley says. “Every day is different.
“One day you’ll be working with the farrier and the next, you’ll be taking a group of donkeys for a walk to help train them to be on our Rehoming Scheme.
“It is such a varied job!”
Shelley joined The Donkey Sanctuary having lived around horses for much of her life, and was instantly impressed with how much work is being done by our organisation in the UK and abroad.
Today, she wears The Donkey Sanctuary badge with pride.
“It is a privilege,” she adds. “I am proud to be working for a charity that does such great work and makes such an impact on the lives of donkeys and mules all around the world.”
Shelley’s job sees her liaise with a variety of different professionals, from equine dentists to farriers.
She credits these strong relationships with the bountiful amount of information and skills she has picked up throughout her decade working at the charity.
“I am still learning something new every week!” she laughs. “Since I have been here, I have picked up so much.
“You learn a lot from being with all of the professionals who provide them with the care and wellbeing they need.
“It really does keep the job fresh. I know I probably still have a long way to go, but I do consider myself an experienced groom – although there is always something new they will throw at you!”
There have been plenty of magic moments for Shelley throughout her distinguished career with the charity.
One time, she found herself shoulder to shoulder with our late founder, Dr Elisabeth Svendsen, observing a group of donkeys who had arrived following a rescue.
Among the group of donkeys, whose lives had been tinged with neglect and misery, stood a small foal, just a few months old.
“I remember Dr Svendsen turning to me and saying ‘isn’t he a poor little lad’. It was like a lightbulb moment went off, because she excitedly exclaimed ‘that’s what we’ll call him, Little Lad!’
“I still remember that moment with great fondness. It was an honour to stand next to the woman who had made all of this possible, and witness her name a donkey in person.”
It is not just the donkeys that makes the job so enjoyable for Shelley, but the friendships she has made along the way.
“I am proud to be part of our dedicated team of grooms,” she says.
“We band together when any challenges arise. We help each other with caring for sick donkeys, and there’s always a shoulder to cry on if a donkey sadly passes away.”
So, what would Shelley say to anybody considering applying to be a groom at The Donkey Sanctuary?
“Don’t think twice! You’ll receive a very warm welcome from the team and donkeys alike.
“It is a genuinely amazing place to work, with stunning countryside and views on location. It has been a real privilege to call myself a member of The Donkey Sanctuary family.”
Bringing a smile to visitors’ faces is the golden perk of Tom Dean’s job.
“It’s great witnessing a visitor seeing their adoption donkey for the first time,” he says.
“They light up because they realise that the donkey they got to know through a video or screen is actually right in front of them.”
Having worked as a groom at The Donkey Sanctuary for the past four years, Tom, 30, has enjoyed a varied role at the charity.
Be it operating a tractor or picking out donkeys’ feet, Tom is well equipped for the job at hand.
Having been involved in the world of equines from a young age and gaining related qualifications through college, working with donkeys seemed like a natural next step in his career.
“It’s great to have a job where you know you’re doing your part to help donkeys,” he says.
“The Donkey Sanctuary’s headquarters in Sidmouth is a lovely place to work. It’s a calm and peaceful environment is definitely therapeutic, especially if you’re living in a city.”
But it’s not just his role that Tom enjoys, it’s the bonds he has struck up with the furry characters he is tasked with caring for.
“The donkeys have welcomed us into their herd,” he adds. “They’re always pleased to see us when we come into their area to do our work.
“They get to know who you are through grooming and handling and feeding, and in turn we get to know a lot more about them, and what their preferences are.
“Each donkey is different so it has been interesting to learn which donkey likes what a certain way.”
One example of this is a donkey called Neddy, who was quite nervous of humans.
Thanks to Tom’s persistence, and a specially-created behaviour plan to address Neddy’s timid nature, results soon began to bloom.
Neddy is now a confident, lively donkey and Tom feels proud of his achievement.
So, what would Tom say to anybody considering applying to be a groom at The Donkey Sanctuary?
“It’s a great charity to work for. Training is provided, and you can’t beat the views.
“Being a groom isn’t a nine to five job, because you have to be prepared for the unexpected. But the environment is serene and the team here is great – we are like a mini family.”