Pauline’s fallen head over hoof for ‘gentle souls’

Debbie Fleming & Pauline Sainsbury in their element – caring for donkeys at Mamaku. Photo: Merle Foster.

Pauline Sainsbury’s head pops up from underneath a donkey, she waves – then it’s back to work. The 65-year-old is trimming Rosie’s hooves with loyal helper Debbie Fleming. She applies cream to pressure sores on Rosie’s legs and ruffles the animal’s fur. Then the ladies talk donkeys over the fence rail.

In 2005 Pauline had horses on her Tarukenga property. She had nothing to do with donkeys. “This trekking club shut down and had nowhere to put these two donkeys – I said I’d take them. I rehomed them – that’s how it started.”

She joined the Donkey Society and it snowballed. “People started to ring me.” Fastforward 13 years and Pauline’s picked up and rehomed more than 250 donkeys via the Mamaku Donkey Rescue & Rehoming Centre she runs from her 10 acres off SH5.

She works with Alan Baguley from Whakatane – who like her, is a Donkey Protection Trust trustee – the Donkey Society, SPCA and Ministry for Primary Industries. Alan is her “muscle man” for collections.

Debbie, who adopted a donkey, helps with day-to-day chores and donkey cuddles. “Pauline didn’t plan this,” says Debbie. “But she’s just got such a big heart.”

Pauline collects donkeys in need – a “neglected donkey problem”, for elderly moving to retirement homes, those terminally ill who can’t look after their pets, or folk downsizing.

“Donkeys left in the back paddock, obese donkeys, thin donkeys, donkeys with curly hooves – donkeys who are entire jacks who become nasty,” says Pauline.

“We’ve picked up donkeys that can’t walk, wild jacks that bite and kick, and really nice donkeys too.”

She’s been all over the place for collections. “We’ve met some wonderful people and some not-so-nice, we’ve dealt with dangerous situations and seen a lot of NZ.”

And the job can be tough. “They sit down on the ramp, stand on your feet – I’ve even had one chase me into the float,” she laughs.

“I jumped over the crossbar. Everyone laughed – saying they’d never seen me run so fast and so high. I said: ‘You would too if you saw a donkey coming at you with the teeth and the ears back – I thought holeey!”

Pauline’s ‘hospital paddock’ for the frail or ill borders her home. She hard-feeds patients with sugarbeet, salt, Psyllium husk and liquid minerals – according to individual needs three-times-a-day, plus gives hay twice-daily.

Currently she has 13 – at different stages of rehabilitation and adoption. Pauline and Debbie spend much time breaking in and taming donkeys. “Frequently people don’t have contact with their donkeys; they just stay in the paddock untouched. But they love affection,” says Debbie.

The pair trim 29 donkeys’ hooves around the BOP. “Debbie is a god-send,” says Pauline. “It makes my life so much easier when I’m trimming to have her holding them, keeping them placid. Because some donkeys we deal with are not for the faint-hearted!”

When adopting a donkey – or donkeys – Pauline checks the owner’s property for shelter, fencing – and if they have a mate. “Donkey’s rely on companionship – you can’t rehome one by itself. The adoptees either have to take two or have a horse the donkey can bond with. And you can’t split a pair up – unless one has died, of course.”

Pauline aims to match donkeys to families and vice versa – “I’ve only had three pairs boomeranged back” – and is only a phone call l away if one stops eating, limps or coughs over a bray.

She shows donkeys at A&P Shows, takes them to kindergartons, schools and resthomes. Little Nibby, from miniature descent, goes to church. “He’s particularly useful at resthomes, with those wheelchair-bound able to reach him.”

And she does this all for free. “All of it does come from my own money and donations. However the DPT supports us in getting donkeys gelded – because we don’t rehome jacks.”

“The only thing I ask when I rehome a donkey is new owners pay some money for transport. Lots of times they give me a donation too.”

One-off vet bills are covered by the trust for assisted worming, or dentistry. Because donkeys get bad teeth and suffer from worms.

“I also do a lot of educating. Four times a year two intermediate schools bring six students here for two hours. I give them a job to do – and tell them what I do. And let them pat the donkeys.”

Pauline admits she’s developed a soft spot for donkeys. “Oh yeah!” What does she love about them? “I guess they’re gentle souls,” says Pauline. Debbie’s fallen head over hooves too. “They just love cuddles.”

 “They’re really quite relaxing too,” says Pauline, whose husband Des suffers from dementia and finds the animals therapeutic. And they make great family pets. Plus, they’re good at eating weeds.

Pauline retires the elderly at her sanctuary. She’s adopted six. Her treasured pet is 21-year-old male Milo. “He started it all. He came from Napier wild as. He’d just been gelded and it took him six men to get him on the float. I said to myself: ‘What have I done?’ I opened the float, he bolted and stood in the paddock corner for about three days.”

“When I did catch him he’d bite and kick. I broke him into harness, took him to shows.” Now her tame boy watches the flow of homeless come and go.

Pauline’s property is perfect for donkeys, with sloping hills, tracks, bush and stone – they are very inquisitive and can get bored.

“If you have a flat acre give them toys, offer branches; or fill up a gumboot with apples. In summer I put out a sack and they play tug-o’war. I’ve had a few teach themselves to open gates.”

Pauline, 65, has ‘retired’ to a full-time physical job lifting buckets, haybales, collecting donkeys and trimming hooves. “I do think the hills are growing steeper.” But she has no intention of parking up the donkey float.  “She’ll keep going until she drops,” says Debbie.

To get in touch with Pauline about donkey collection or adoption, email: or call: 027 698 5262.


There are no comments on this article.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to make a comment. Login Now
Opinion Poll

We're not running a poll right now. Check back soon!