IT may be one of the best kept secrets of the Hunter Region.
Set on an unassuming property not far from Clarence Town is a tiny hospital of a very different kind. A donkey hospital.
It’s where the aged, abandoned and ill make their recovery under the watchful eye of a small group of dedicated staff and volunteers.
A few minutes down the road, at the foothills of the Barrington Tops is the sanctuary, where the healthier donkeys can enjoy well-kept paddocks on roughly 300 acres of land.
It may sound like paradise for donkeys and for the people behind the Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary, that’s what they strive for.
Leanne Atkins, the assistant manager said a lot of the animals that end up at the sanctuary have come from loving homes.
“They’re not like cats or dogs or horses,” she said.
“Horses will live to their 30s but donkeys will live to their 50s.
“A lot of people will get a donkey when their middle-aged and have the property but then later on in life they have to downsize.
“That’s when they’ll surrender their donkey to us because they know it’s going to a good place.”
Running off donations and hard yakka, the Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary has been operating for more than 26 years.
It was founded by Joanne Kokas (OAM) and has steadily grown to comprise of two separate properties for the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and the sanctuary.
It currently accommodates 64 donkeys that have been surrendered or rescued from neglect, but has in the past had 150 with 12 in the ICU.
“We’re in the process of moving the ICU here to the sanctuary,” Ms Atkins said.
“Once that is done it will all be run more efficiently.”
The work of the sanctuary is all encompassing. Each donkey is microchipped and put on a database that lists their date of birth, if known, history and health as well as food and medical requirements.
Every donkey has a name and if the animal needs picking up, the sanctuary organises transport - having travelled all over the state from West Wyalong and Gilgandra to Nowra on the South Coast.
“Often they have to be sedated and you don’t know their temperament or condition,” Ms Atkins said.
“It’s taken us up to two hours to catch a donkey before transporting it.”
The ones that aren’t in the ICU are kept in large paddocks and are rotated every eight weeks to ensure there’s plenty of grazing opportunites.
Farriers and dentists are also brought in every eight weeks and the donkeys are checked over from “head to hoof”, all at a significant cost.
“We’ll follow the farrier around and worm them, check their health and give them whatever they need, every eight weeks,” Ms Atkins said.
“They’re a herd animal so they need companionship. They just want to be near you all the time.”
With such a high standard of care and a willingness to accommodate donkeys from across the state, it’s little wonder that the sanctuary is the go-to place for people who unwillingly have to rehome their animals.
In order to provide for the animals, it relies heavily on donations from the public and fundraisers such as the Christmas in July luncheon that it will hold at Clarence Town Bowling Club on Saturday, July 30.
An open day will also be held on the October long weekend where, for just a $10 entry fee, visitors can see for themselves the work put into transforming shy and neglected donkeys into healthy and confident animals.
And while such events are an integral part of keeping the sanctuary afloat, efforts to raise funds have been hamstrung by damage caused by the super storm in April 2015.
“We were running bus groups through and serving lunch but the flooding from the storm ruined the kitchen, damaged the shop and forced us to stop for a while,” Ms Atkins said.
“We also lost the whole bottom layer of our hay that was stored which we now just have to use as mulch.”
Tours for bus groups have only recently been gradually reinstated, with groups invited in for a tour and a cup of tea.
According to Ms Atkins, there are long-term plans to construct a toilet block and shop to better accommodate groups, however such plans will require more fund-raising.
“There’s such a cost involved, we don’t receive any government grants,” she said.
“Every little bit helps and we’re so grateful for what people do for us. We get all our feed from Norco and they help us wherever they can, we have people who donate to us and it’s such a help.”
People who can’t get to the sanctuary to meet the donkeys can catch them when they make appearances at events like the Tocal Field Days and Newcastle Show where they help raise awareness about the work done at the Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary.
A more novel approach to raising vital funds has also been taken with the introduction of a donkey-sponsor program.
“People can sponsor a donkey and they get a certificate and photo and can come and visit it and see the work we do,” Ms Atkins said.
“We also have a coffee club where people can make a monthly donation.”
For more information about the Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary, sponsoring a donkey, making a donation or getting involved visit www.donkeyrescue.org.au