When people think of donkeys, they associate them with all kinds of ideas, some of which are very far from actual reality. Some of us think of a donkey as a stupid, stubborn animal, which is not exactly known for its ability to give warmth and love like a dog or cat. However, people who really know this animal at close hand know that the exact opposite is true.
Moussa Saudi has worked for 11 years in the Safe Haven for Donkeys, which has made it its mission to save donkeys that suffer from health problems as a consequence of neglect, abuse or accidents. Moussa gets up each morning to look after the donkeys, some of which come to the farm in a very bad state, and he sees deep in their eyes how much his work means for them.
"I have seen many cases of donkeys who come to us after they were burned or tied until the ropes cut into their flesh and caused severe wounds. The donkeys come to us frightened of people and in trauma – but you can see that in time their situation begins to improve and they really appreciate the help that we give them. Instead of kicking us or running away, they come near and place their heads on our shoulders or snuggle up to us. It always makes me happy to see such an improvement in the donkeys and as far as I'm concerned, I will continue to do this for the rest of my life."
At the time of this writing, the farm cares for no less than 195 donkeys. Moussa, if you were wondering, knows each one of them by name and also knows what their special demands are. Ali Hiajna, who joined Moussa in his work in the past year, was amazed by the dedication and sensitivity that he displays in work and also by the attitude of the donkeys to him and to other people.
"People are unaware of the fact that donkeys are a sensitive animal just like us," Ali says. “Working here teaches you just how important it is to relate to every animal, not only to donkeys, as a soul with flesh and blood. When Moussa told me how donkeys arrive here at the farm it was very difficult. It's sad that people cause animals so much suffering because they are unaware of these things. When people come here and look into the donkeys' eyes, they fall in love with them and begin to look at them differently."
"Emotional intelligence among the highest we have seen"
Unfortunately, not only donkeys undergo abuse, but in Israeli society awareness of their suffering is usually very low. When people think of cruelty to animals, they think of cows, sheep, dogs and horses – as these animals are around them all the time. People ride horses, milk cows and raise dogs. Therefore, many people develop special relationships with these animals.
Donkeys, just like the other animals mentioned here, are still used by people for work and sometimes they are treated with contempt, and violently in the worst cases. But unlike the other animals, many of us are not aware of donkeys, simply because they are not sufficiently present around us.
Keren Dustar, who has been working in the Charity for two years, believes that all this changes when people first meet donkeys on the farm. "For me, the connection to donkeys is beyond words or physical presence. It’s a mystic and cosmic connection that cannot be explained in words. In my opinion, this is an animal with emotional intelligence among the highest I have seen. Donkeys know how to say who they love and who they don’t, who they feel comfortable coming near and who not – and it’s true both of people and of other donkeys on the farm.”
“When people visit the farm, they suddenly realize that the donkey, that animal that was invisible to them until now, has a whole system of emotions and feelings, together with a very defined character. This encounter, which in many cases happens here in our farm for the first time, is something that it is always very moving to see. It is the beginning of a crack in this sharp distinction that many people make between us and the donkeys.
A relationship that lasts for a lifetime
Not many people know this or attribute importance to it, but donkeys can connect emotionally to other people and donkeys in a very interesting and surprising way. “As soon as a donkey connects to another donkey, it’s for life, and it doesn’t make any difference if they are related or connect to one another at another point in life,” Keren explains.
One of the stories that illustrate this well is that of Moshe and David, two donkeys who came to the farm at a very sensitive time in their lives. “We found Moshe after a traffic accident in which his mother was apparently hit by a car,” Keren recalls. “When we arrived, we saw him lying by the side of the road next to his mother who was no longer alive. He was not prepared to leave her, and thanks to good people who reported this to us we took him to us for rehabilitation.” When he arrived at the farm, Moshe was quarantined so that the veterinarian could carry out all the necessary examinations and ensure that he did not have any disease that would infect the other donkeys. This is an accepted procedure which is very rigidly adhered to in the Charity in order to protect the health of all the animals.
After the veterinarian examined him and said he was healthy, Moshe was released from quarantine, but at the farm, they were concerned that his acclimatization would be challenging due to his young age and the trauma he had undergone. However, a few days later, David, a donkey who was found wandering around the streets of Jerusalem and like Moshe was also only a few months old, arrived at the farm. “From the first moment we decided to place Moshe and David together and from this stage they formed a very deep and strong relationship,” Keren says. “This is a relationship that no one can break up and we have no doubt that they are together for life. To this day, even when they go to Beit Dagan for medical treatment, we make sure they are together – they are not prepared to be separated and we don’t have any intention of separating them.”
Looking after donkeys is also therapy for people
When dealing with the challenging task of saving donkeys that have undergone abuse, it’s easy to become sad, frustrated or angry at the people who harm animals in such a way. However, Moussa, Ali and Keren are all full of optimism and also believe in the good in the human race. “When people see the donkeys with their own eyes, something in them changes,” Moussa says. “Suddenly they realize that an animal is an entire world and they see how important it is to look after it and not cause it suffering.”
Keren on her part also hopes that in the future we will see an improvement in how society relates to animals in general and donkeys in particular. “If I wasn’t optimistic, I wouldn’t be here in the Charity. I hope the younger generation will be more sensitive and accepting towards animals. It’s important that each of us has compassion, and that we open our heart, eyes and head to the other, to those who are invisible, to those who we usually tend not to look at. When this happens, not only animals benefit. Reality shows that looking after donkeys is also therapy for people.”
The Charity, it is important to note, is mainly supported by private donors – and those people are those who ensure its continued existence in the future also. Its members accept any sum of money gratefully – and also modest donations of sacks of carrots, cucumbers or anything else that can help them in their work. “You can also buy an original gift for people you love of adopting a donkey virtually,” Keren emphasizes. “In this way you support a particular donkey, which the staff here care for. You can watch the donkeys through the cameras on our website 24/7 and also arrange a visit. Many families have already turned it into a tradition – they adopt a donkey for a family member who is celebrating a birthday or a special occasion.”