Shirley Mainprize and her husband, Robert Miller, have been taking care of abandoned and abused donkeys and mules for almost two decades.
“It wasn’t our plan, but it was definitely our destiny,” Mainprize said. “We purchased two donkeys, fell in love with them and, a year later, a gentleman brought us a few more. Now we have 118 in our care.”
Turtle Valley Donkey Refuge Society is a non-profit organization that requires a great deal of monetary support to stay afloat.
“Our budget here is about $350,000 a year,” Mainprize said. “Rob and I volunteer.”
The couple have been surprised over the years to see so much abuse surrounding these long-eared animals.
“Just about every donkey here has a sad story. If we look at Miss Daisy, she’s a standard size, but she’s in with the minis because when she came here, she was severely abused,” Miller said. “With her, it took me six months of rehabilitation, two to three hours twice a day, every day.”
The refuge is a forever home for all the animals in their care.
The organization will not allow adoptions due to the delicate state of the animals as well as their progressing age. Many of the donkeys are reaching their senior years.
There are, however, rare opportunities to foster a donkey.
“We have 14 out in foster care,” Miller said. “When we do foster and, trust me it doesn’t happen very long . . . we still do the vet care and everything before they go out, and we always do it in pairs because if you see a donkey by itself, that’s the loneliest donkey there is.”
Miller travels to other farms, free of charge, educating owners about the proper care of donkeys.
“I’m a cancer patient. I’ve been told twice now to get my affairs in order. You’re not going to make it,” Miller said. “So, to me, this is all payback, because I honestly believe in my heart, if it wasn’t for these animals and what we do, I wouldn’t be here.”
There are many ways to get involved in the sanctuary. The organization has a sponsor-a-donkey program. They also rely heavily on volunteers.
The donkey refuge is open for visitation during the fall on weekends. Adults are charged $12 while youth and seniors pay $8. Children four and under are free.
“They’re not well respected around the world. People purchase donkeys and don’t educate themselves on how to look after them and treat them like horses, which causes health issues,” Mainprize said. “We feel very honoured to supply the care that they need for the rest of their lives. It’s an easy choice.”