Equine Therapy: Donkeys Have an Important Role

Donkeys have a special place in our history, carrying wounded soldiers in World War I and bearing miners’ tools underground in the gold rush.

But for all that laboring, the humble donkey has had little respect and understanding. Australian psychiatrist May Dodd may be the donkey’s best human friend.

Dr. Dodd  runs Victoria’s only donkey hospital and refuge, at her Diamond Creek property and in Tongala. In the days following the Black Saturday bushfires, Dr Dodd evacuated 91 donkeys, on cattle trucks, to safe ground near Echuca. She drove her donkey ambulance through police roadblocks into places such as Kinglake, Chum Creek and Dixons Creek, while the ground was still smouldering.The psychiatrist has cared for more than 300 donkeys in the past 13 years at her home on Ironbark Road, where she also runs her private medical practice full time. The last fire-affected donkey, Moomba, went back home to Humevale just a few months ago, still partially blind from burnt eyes.

Dr Dodd says donkeys and psychiatry may seem an odd match, but they complement each other.

”One is all about the mind and the other is mostly physical work, so it’s a great balance,” she says. ”I have this propensity to protect minority or marginalized groups. Mentally ill patients are often shunned and donkeys are also forgotten by society. But donkeys also have a calm tranquility about them which I, and my patients, enjoy.”

”Donkeys are more dog-like than horse-like; they are inquisitive, affectionate and like to follow you around for a pat.”

Her father was a horse jockey from age 10 in Newmarket, the headquarters of British racing, but Dr. Dodd was always terrified on a horse, preferring the donkey’s slower gait.

But no matter how often he put his only child on a horse, she was always terrified. Instead, she preferred a donkey’s slow plod.

Dr Dodd broke with the family horsing tradition when she completed her medical degree at the University of London.

Not long afterwards, in 1981, she responded to an advertisement calling for doctors to come to Australia. She was meant to work for just two months at the Plenty Valley Repatriation Psychiatric Hospital, but never left.

Dr Dodd sees about 26 patients a week in Diamond Creek, where she lives alone, and cares for the donkeys in her spare time. ”Initially I took a few donkeys on because I had the space” but she had a  difficult time turning any away.

She lends donkeys for work with troubled children and events like Remembrance Day.

The above is excerpted from:

A caring operation that’s run for donkeys’ years

Marika Dobbin

January 5, 2011