Donkeys over the rainbow at PrimRose

Isn’t it funny how hearing a song can take you back to another place in time? From now on, whenever I hear Over the Rainbow I’ll be instantly transported to an emerald pasture on a glorious spring day surrounded by 23 beautiful donkeys, seven mild-mannered mules, two sheep, two goats, two pot-bellied pigs (one of whom is famous for his farts) and … a flock of flying monkeys!

Polly and Nellie
Polly and Nellie

Fear not, I haven’t fallen asleep in a field of poppies. Aside from the flying monkeys, it’s all true!

On Sunday, May 5, while mariachi bands celebrated Cinco de Mayo, I celebrated the emancipation of two donkeys from a burden-bearing past. I was also re-acquainted with old friends and introduced to some delightful new ones on Education Day at PrimRose Donkey Sanctuary in Roseneath, Ontario.

I first visited this magical place over a year ago. Fondly named after the very first donkey taken in by founder Sheila Burns, PrimRose continues to win the hearts of all who find their way to its barn door. At 39 years old, PrimRose the donkey still makes appearances at special events and proudly leads the way in the Palm Sunday parade in town!

Following that visit, I shared the story of a brave little donkey named Annabelle. She’d been rescued seconds before being sold at auction. It’s been nothing but rainbows for Annabelle ever since! Her BFF (best farm friend) is the oldest donkey at the sanctuary, 48-year-old Lucy. When she’s not braying it up with Lucy, she’s nudging volunteers for hugs.

Other residents at the sanctuary shone just as brightly, demanding my attention. Take Abigail for instance, the pot-bellied pig with a passion for interior decorating. Abby is sadly gone now but no doubt going hog wild on renos.

Following in her hoof-steps is the new pig in town, a real ham that goes by the name Art-the-Fart-Blueberry-Tart. I didn’t actually meet Art. He was sawing logs in his pig-house which is probably just as well considering his aromatic reputation. I did, however, have the pleasure of meeting his stall-mate, Ruby-Thursday! Rescued on a Thursday, she bravely shares the pig parlor with her fragrant friend. They’re just two pigs in a pod!

Vanna White the grinning goat is still illuminating the barn courtesy of her celebrity smile. Of course she only smiles when young Preston isn’t getting her goat. She’ll need time to warm up to the new kid on the block. For now, she’s sharing her goat’s nest with her sheep peeps.

Christina Rose, best described as a dog in sheep’s clothing, is still a big happy ball of yarn albeit recently sheared. But like Vanna, she’s raring to butt heads with the smaller version of herself just to show him who’s boss. Kitty Lamonte, a motherless lamb, needed bottle feeding when he joined the sanctuary. For now, orphans Preston and Kitty are pen-mates until they’re big enough for Head-Butting Initiation Day with the elders.

Last but never least is Justin Credible, the canine prince of PrimRose. We shared a few precious moments together in the breezeway, watching a slideshow of all the rescued donkeys that have come and gone while Over the Rainbow played softly in the background. That’s when time stood still for me, at least until I met Polly and Nelly.

It’s true what they say – when one door closes, another opens. Sheila and her dedicated volunteers recently mourned the loss of two beloved residents. Russell was a sweet 50-year-old mule and Jack was a 49-year-old donkey who could bray your ear off if you let him. Saying goodbye is never easy, even when one knows a donkey’s average lifespan is 50 years. Volunteer Elaine, who snapped photos for me, said Jack reminded her of Eeyore. He was a great listener, at least when he wasn’t banging his head on the barn door – a donkey’s willful way of asking to be let out to pasture.

Soon after Russell and Jack bid them farewell, another door did in fact open. Sheila received a phone call from the Quinte Humane Society on the Friday before Education Day. Two donkeys, a mother and daughter, were being seized due to severe neglect. The owner had been issued orders pertaining to proper care but never complied. Thankfully, he surrendered them without argument. Sheila couldn’t gather them up fast enough. In just two days since being rescued, seven-year-old Polly and three-year-old Nelly had already received better care than they’d ever known.

For some of the volunteers, this was the worst case of neglect they’d ever seen. The donkeys’ hooves alone told a painful story of needless suffering. They were so frightfully over-grown, the pair could barely walk. Nelly’s hooves were the worst. They looked like Munchkin elf shoes curling up at the toe. But there was nothing cute about this. Donkeys need their hooves trimmed every 10 to 12 weeks. Nelly’s had never been trimmed. The joy they must have felt when they were finally free of their cement shoes!

Polly and Nelly, top, were taken in by the Prim Rose Donkey Sanctuary after being seized from their previous owner for neglect. Neither had ever had their hooves trimmed, above.
Polly and Nelly, top, were taken in by the Prim Rose Donkey Sanctuary after being seized from their previous owner for neglect. Neither had ever had their hooves trimmed, above.

It will take time for Polly and Nelly to fully recover from their stormy past. They practically have to learn how to walk again. But once they do, they’ll shed the unwanted pounds gained from a combination of limited mobility and poor diet. Just as important, they’ll shed their fears as they gradually learn what it’s like to be handled with love and respect.

We don’t need crystal balls, ruby slippers or a man behind a curtain claiming to be a wizard to make magic happen. Real magic is far less complicated, like watching two donkeys graze in a sunlit emerald pasture without a care in the world. For that kind of magic, there’s no place like PrimRose.


Polly and Nelly are burden-free donkeys discovering the magic that lies over the rainbow in an enchanting place called The PrimRose Donkey Sanctuary in Roseneath, Ontario ( Experience the magic for yourself! Families are welcome Thursdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m.

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