On 51 acres near Chase, 100 donkeys are living their best lives.
Turtle Valley Donkey Refuge founder Shirley Mainprize and husband Rob Miller take in abused, abandoned and elderly donkeys, giving them a forever home and providing them with top-notch food and care.
Donkeys have a life expectancy of about 35 to 50 years, with the average age of the current refuge population being 29.
Like humans, aging donkeys often develop chronic conditions that require special care, including a variety of costly medications, to maintain a good quality of life.
Successful fundraising resulted in the building of an infirmary in 2020/21, and Mainprize and Miller are now raising funds to add 2,000 square feet of infrastructure to expand the infirmary, create a recovery area and build a separate barn to house the aging donkeys. And staff are being trained to monitor blood pressure, heart rate and temperatures in order to help Miller decide if he needs to call a veterinarian.
“The Infirmary has been critical for daily health monitoring, intake quarantine and surgery,” said Mainprize, who noted that previously, if a donkey needed surgery, he or she would be transported to a vet in Kamloops and spend three to five days recovering, before returning to the sanctuary. “The journey puts an incredible amount of stress on an already sick animal. Now we just call the vet out.”
That was the case for Harvey, who arrived at the refuge in February, emaciated, extremely head shy and nervous.
“He had a cyst the size of a golf ball and he’s just a tiny mini,” said Mainprize, who pointed out he was malnourished because his teeth were badly in need of attention. “They really do most of their digesting in their mouths by grinding their teeth.”
Mainprize and Miller knew Harvey required surgery but he needed to gain weight in order to survive the operation.
Harvey spent his first few months living in the infirmary, while getting daily walks for exercise and to familiarize him with the refuge and some of the other donkeys. He was also groomed every day.
“Just everything to make him happy and calm in order to feel safe,” Mainprize said.
In May, a vet and assistant from Kamloops removed the cyst in the infirmary under full sedation. Even after surgery it took months to integrate Harvey into a herd.
Elderly Socrates arrived at the refuge in 2012 after his owner died and his wife was unable to care for him.
Socrates was born in 1992 and was with his original owner for 20 years. He has Cushings disease, a metabolic disorder being treated with medication that is used for humans who are living with Parkinson’s Disease.
“His is a typical story, a tragedy or change in lifestyle and they (owners) have to make difficult choices,” said Mainprize, noting it’s common for donkeys to outlive their owners. “We get calls all the time, asking ‘will you help me, can you fix this?’ We’re helping owners make hard decisions on their pets.”
The seeds of the donkey refuge were sown in 2000, when the couple welcomed Maximo and Maria to their Sunnybrae property. A couple years later, someone told them he had heard they took in donkeys, so they acquired two more.
And so it began, with the herd growing and the couple moving to a larger property. A second move took them to the Turtle Valley Road property, which is owned by the non-profit agency and managed by Mainprize and Miller on a volunteer basis.
“Having the charity on its own land ensures the donkeys’ future,” Mainprize said.
“I need to know that when the end comes for me, the donkeys are taken care of.”
The couple is thankful for support that has been provided by community groups and government grants. But donations dropped over the two-year closure due to Covid.
“We are grateful to have received a partial grant from the Margaret Haney Fund for Animal Welfare, held at the Vancouver Foundation and awarded by the Shuswap Community Foundation,” Mainprize said, noting another $40,000 is needed to complete the $120,000 expansion project.
The Refuge is taking donations and selling T-shirts to help fund the project, with all monies going to donkey care and infrastructure. For information, or to make a donation, go online to turtlevalleydonkeyrefuge.com, or you can connect with Shirley Mainprize at 250-679-2778.