Given my fanatical devotion to the canine sector, I could hardly ignore the dog I met while preparing for this article. But as you can plainly see, this is not a story about a dog (aside from his honourary mention a few paragraphs down). Neigh – or rather, bray – this time I’m pinning the tale on a donkey!
I owe this decision to the cute donkey on the other side of the tracks from my farmhouse retreat in the hamlet of Lakeport. If not for him, I may never have learned about The PrimRose Donkey Sanctuary in the neighbouring town of Roseneath. Little Sir William is living the dream with his adoptive family thanks to this donkey rescue of Eastern Ontario. Poor William had been the neglected victim of an animal hoarder, covered in burrs at the time of his salvation. That’s all behind him now, like the dust cloud his happy hooves make when horsing around with his stable-mate of horsely persuasion.
William inspired me to take a lovely country drive to the quiet little town of Roseneath, just a short gallop north of Cobourg. Mind you, it’s not always quiet, as the town folk go hog wild every October when their Agricultural Society hosts the charmingly nostalgic Fall Fair. Kids of all ages clamor to ride a restored carousel, circa 1906, in the heart of the fairgrounds. As the Wurlitzer organ plays on, the painted horses transport their riders to another place in time.
Carousels are magical that way but the real thing is even better. PrimRose, named after the first donkey who called the Sanctuary home, is the real deal. I knew it the moment I spotted the carousel of donkeys enjoying lunch together in the paddock as I pulled up to this enchanting place. A few rescued felines were the first to greet me, posing majestically on an old sleigh by the barn’s entrance.
Founder and proprietor Sheila Burns had been called away to rescue a couple of geldings but I was in good hands. The smiling faces of dedicated volunteers made for a warm welcome on a chilly day. And yet they were only part of the welcoming committee. A few others were competing for ‘Hostess with the Mostest’. Abigail was in the lead without even squealing for my attention. The pot-belliest of pot bellied pigs is hard to miss, but she’s rarely caught sitting on her pigtail. When Abby isn’t busy greeting visitors, she’s rearranging furniture. She’s also got a thing for bling which would suggest she’s the design consultant for the barn. The twinkling array of chandeliers hanging from the rafters is so Abigail!
Then there’s Shadow the goat, who also goes by Vanna White. The nickname stuck the first time she flashed her pearly whites. The smile may be classic Hollywood but everything else about this kid is small-town goofball.
My favourite greeter had to be Christina-Rose who, incidentally, was rescued along with the shy little brown donkey pictured here. At the time, she was just a wee lamb. She’s more like a giant happy ball of yarn with legs now.
I know I’m beating around the bale of hay somewhat but before I move on to my Pet of the Month, I must fill you in on the ‘Prince of PrimRose’ – the mesmerizing canine I alluded to in my intro. His name is Justin Credible and he’s just that. As a puppy, he’d been cruelly whacked in the head with a blunt instrument. Justin may be too unsteady on his feet to run like the average care-free dog as a result, but since Sheila rescued him, he’s perfected a unique equestrian-style prance instead. Combine proud prance with upbeat attitude and you’ve got royalty.
There are over 20 mesmerizing donkeys at the Sanctuary. There’s Willy the Nudger, Oscar the Scarf Nibbler, and Oliver the Baby, to name a few. (Neither I nor my scarf got close enough to Oliver to give him a proper title.)
As colourful as they all are, I chose the shy little brown donkey named Annabelle to be my Pet of the Month. Perhaps her title should be Annabelle the Victorious.
It was a couple years ago when a friend of PrimRose saved her by being the highest bidder at an animal auction. Sadly, auctions are where many farm animals wind up, either to be shipped off to a new owner or sold for meat.
Although donkeys can live up to 50 years, teenaged Annabelle seemed to be at her end. Covered in lice, she literally collapsed on the auction block while rain poured down on her. But donkeys are stubborn! Thanks to a magical place and her new best friend Lucy (if Justin is the ‘Prince of PrimRose’, this matronly donkey is the queen), Annabelle found every reason to dig in her hooves and stand tall once again!
I think I know what makes PrimRose so special. You feel it the moment you stand among the animals that live there. They’re loved and they know it. It’s what makes them whole again, giving them the strength to rise above their sad beginnings. But they also give back all that and more. Abigail makes you giggle with her pigtail wiggle. Vana spreads sunshine with her goatly grin and Christina-Rose gets everyone bouncing for sheer joy. As for the donkeys, I’ll never understand how such light-hearted beings could ever be mistaken for beasts of burden. Especially when their favourite pastime is tugging at your heart in much the same way they tug at your scarf when you’re not looking.
Leave it to the dog to sum it up best. The PrimRose Donkey Sanctuary is…just incredible.
Annabelle is a 17 year old donkey basking in the magical glow of a barn filled with chandeliers at The PrimRose Donkey Sanctuary in Roseneath, Ontario (primrosedonkeysanctuary.com). Come see what everybody’s braying about! Visitors welcome Thursdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m