PADDY Barrett has been caring for animals since he was a child. Born and reared in Liscarroll, Mallow, he grew up watching the example of his ISPCA inspector father.
After his father’s death in 1981, Paddy decided to continue his good work.
In 1987, he set up The Donkey Sanctuary and has since rescued 4,200 abandoned or neglected donkeys. On the eve of his retirement, he explains why this charity has been so important and why Irish people should educate themselves about animal welfare.
“I have always loved animals and used to go out with my father on jobs, when he worked for the ISPCA,” says the father-of-four. “When he died, I took over the farm here and, over the years, began to come across an increasing number of donkeys, which had been abandoned in bogs all over the west of Ireland.
“Some of them were in very bad shape and most had terrible problems with their feet, but they are very robust little animals and, while their health was poor, most survived the tough conditions.”
As advances in farm machinery took over from traditional ‘donkey work’, more animals were cast aside by people who couldn’t afford to look after them. Paddy became inundated with reports of animals in need of shelter.
“When tractors took over from the donkeys, they were left idle and, because they can live for up to 50 years, people didn’t want to pay blacksmith fees every few years, so they just left them to fend for themselves,” Paddy says.
“But if their feet are not looked after, a donkey can fall into very bad shape and, unfortunately, the Irish people were not always concerned with animal welfare, unless there was a profit involved.
“But, thankfully, times are changing and while there’s still a big issue with neglect — you only have to look at any town to see the amount of stray cats and dogs wandering about — it is getting better.
“The Government have introduced micro-chipping and passports, which makes it more difficult for people to abuse animals and public attitude is changing, as people are becoming more aware of how animals should be cared for and, more importantly, why they should be looked after.”
Paddy, who is married to Eileen and has eight grandchildren, says his years in the Donkey Sanctuary have been incredibly rewarding, but he says donkeys are underestimated.
“The idea that donkeys are not very smart animals is the reason why so many of them have been abandoned,” he says. “They are regarded as dumb, but, in fact, the opposite is true and they are actually very intelligent. They can survive the toughest of conditions and will always remember who has been kind to them and who hasn’t.
“I was brought up to respect animals and I couldn’t imagine being any other way with them. Seeing my father rescue animals inspired me to do the same and it has been so rewarding, for me, to spend the past 27 years rescuing and rehabilitating donkeys — in fact, there is little which can compare to the satisfaction of being able to bring a sick or neglected animal back to good health.
“Sometimes, we are contacted too late and the animal dies and this is very hard, but we can only do what we can and hope that people let the Sanctuary know, as soon as possible, so the animal has a good chance of survival.”
Over the years, Paddy and his team have rehoused countless donkeys with families who have a little bit of land.
“Donkeys make wonderful pets and we have been able to place many of them in good homes,” he says. “They love to be stroked and groomed and are very gentle animals, which is, of course, ideal for children.
“They don’t require a lot of work, but they must have adequate ground, of about an acre, to roam in. They also need shelter — nothing fancy, just somewhere they can get out of the rain and wind, as their coats aren’t waterproof — and they must be taken to the farrier every four to five years to have their hooves seen to.
“Other than that, the other important factor is company. Donkeys get lonely when they are on their own, so we would always try to house them in pairs, so they have a little company.
“Taking on a trusting and loving animal is very rewarding, as they pay back with affection of their own. And it’s wonderful to see how much joy children get from them — I saw it with my own and now I can see it, again, with my grandchildren.
“I would love to keep on running the Sanctuary, but while I still have four or five donkeys on my own land, it’s now time to hand over the reins to the next generation.”
For more information, or to make a donation, visit www.thedonkeysanctuary.ie, or call 022 48398.