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Interview: Jules Jenkinson of Corfu Donkey Rescue

A few weeks ago, I shared some information on the Corfu Donkey Rescue (CDR) and its mission to help donkeys live out the remainder of their lives with peace and dignity. In the weeks since, I've had the opportunity to sit down with one of the regular volunteers, Jules, and learn even more about the organization and the way in which it helps care for these donkeys. I am so grateful to Jules for her time and generosity in sitting down for this interview. I hope you enjoy it!

Can you kindly introduce yourself and give some background on how long have you been affiliated with the CDR?

Of course! My name is Jules and I've been volunteering with CDR since shortly after the organization was founded. I started visiting CDR after myself and my family vacationed in Corfu and we started visiting the sanctuary. We all started going shortly after the charity was started, and it quickly became the highlight of my kids’ holiday. I eventually started volunteering (without the kids) and ended up making it a bigger part of my life where I was able to come more often and volunteer as I grew to love the organization. I have had the opportunity to watch the organization change location from Poulades to its current location in Doukades. In 2017, my circumstances changed and I was able to move to Corfu for 18 months; during this time period, I worked as the manager at the CDR.

Do you have any affiliation to the island of Corfu?

No , I have no personal affiliation to the island.

What motivated you to volunteer in the field of animal welfare?

From a young age, I’d had horses and a strong background in horses. This background helped me appreciate the donkeys and all the work that comes with caring for them.

What was life like working as the manager of the CDR?

Every day was different. I tried to have a routine in order to get everything done, but you need to deal with situations as they come. Some days an animal would be sick, other days one would need a trip to the vet... it was difficult to predict what was going to happen each day. Other tasks I managed included volunteer coordinations, managing the medical side of the animal care, and ensuring day-to-day tasks were done. Typically, volunteers come 1-2 weeks at a time and then leave, so injections, wound care, checking the feet, and applying/removing bandages were activities all done by me.

What role do volunteers play for the charity?

Without volunteers, the charity is difficult to manage. Depending on their level of animal experience, some can take on tasks different to others. For most volunteers, there is lots of cleaning involved! On a daily basis they help with supplying donkeys with essentials, feeding, and grooming. Over the years, myself and other volunteers have made amazing friends during their time at CDR and many return to the island year after year.

Winter is a particularly difficult time of year because the island doesn’t have direct flights from other countries so it’s tougher for volunteers to make it to the island. Also, in the winter, the work is different because the footfall of visitors is different. (For reference, winter is roughly from November through March/April.)

Some workers and volunteers are there all of the time; I think there are 2-3 permanent staff members. Some volunteers live on the island and come once or twice per week. There are some students as well. The majority of volunteers tend to come from Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Switzerland, although this changes. As the CDR is a smaller charity, it works on occasion with other charities on a case-by-case basis.

What successes has the charity had recently? What drawbacks has the charity had recently?

Successes - I would say the expansion of the site - after a generous monetary donation was made, we had the opportunity to add more land and improve the site. This expansion allowed for a more organized daily routine for the animals. The more space the donkeys have, the better for them. It's hard to believe, but years ago (probably about 2010 if I am rememberring correctly), there were up to 70 donkeys there in a space that is much smaller than it is today! The old space was congested, and having more space made a huge difference as a lot of the donkeys can’t live together. For example, four younger donkeys known as “the hooligans” as we so fondly referred to them used to play with the older, worn-out donkeys, terrorising the elderly donkeys. For this reason, they need to stay separately.

Drawbacks - Over the years, there have been issues that have cropped up here and there with Greek bureaucracy. The charity now on the main water supply, but there was a point where it was relying only on agricultural water. During this time, we overcame challenges such as times where water would get randomly switched off, which was extremely difficult to deal with.

Lack of proper vet care on the island for donkeys and equines in general is another major drawback. Not only is there a lack of knowledge regarding proper care for the donkeys, but there is also a lack of availability for this type of care for the donkeys. If you’ve got a donkey with colic, you’re just guessing at what the proper care required would be. There have been times where we are desperate for a veterinarian and the vets just aren’t available. The vets don’t seem to want to deal with the larger animals and this type of care is much different than that of a smaller animal, like a dog or car. It's not like you can just take the donkey in the car and drive it to a clinic to receive care - there is much more preparation that goes into it.

What is the reason most donkeys end up at CDR and can you explain some details about why donkeys have been brought here in the past?

The majority of donkeys that arrive at our facilities have come from the island. They’ve been worked and used for a long time. Forty years ago, every village on this island had a donkey. They were essential to any agricultural operation back then due to their ability to climb into narrow spots and transport goods. However, over time, the donkeys aged and people didn’t know what to do with them and how to properly take care of them anymore. In some cases, this was due to the old age of the donkey's owner(s). In other cases, if the donkey was sick, some people just couldn’t afford to pay for the care their donkeys needed. Occasionally, younger donkeys with early identified injuries or disabilities which prevented it from working would be brought in to be taken care of, as their cases were often too much for the owners to manage.

You see a lot of neglect of the feet in the donkeys brought in. Many times, the feet have become deformed due to lack of care over the years. We had a donkey that had been hit by a car and had a broken leg come in for care a number of years ago. We also had a donkey that came in with a severely deformed back (photos below).

Can you talk about the Italian meat trade - has that played a role in the donkeys brought to the CDR?

Due to lack of donkeys on the island now (compared to years ago), the meat trade has petered out. It might still exist, but not in the way it used to. Back in those days, the dealer would wait until he had 20-30 donkeys before he shipped them to Italy to be sold for meat.

What should someone do if he or she knows of a donkey in need on the island? What if someone is off of the island? Are there specific criteria for donkeys to be able to come to CDR?

On the island, just get in contact with CDR and the organization will try its best to liaise with the proper parties in order to achieve what needs to happen. Off the island, it’s always worth reaching out to see what can be done, but it's worth mentioning that the journey to Corfu can be traumatizing for some donkeys so transporting donkeys in a dangerous condition might not always be the best solution.

We've had about 2-3 donkeys came from smaller local islands including Lefkada in recent years. When this happens, it is usually an arrangement with another charity.

What, if any, role does the Greek government (either federal or local) play in supporting the charity?

The Greek government plays no role in supporting this charity. There may have been a few occasions over the years where there were dealings with local government here and there, but there has never been any major collaboration. In my experience, the locals tend to see the animals as animals and nothing more.

What is the most surprising thing you’ve seen in your time at CDR?

You get ups and downs with animals and there are good and bad days. You lose animals as they age, which is always sad but you remind yourself that the donkey lived its last years in a comfortable environment without stress, pain, struggle, or hunger and that helps.

What is your favorite part of volunteering at CDR?

I must say my favorite part is just being with the donkeys and helping out with the animals in general.

If you get a new donkey, you think that they could have spent 20-25 years seeing the same person every day. That donkey likely would have led a very secluded life; he or she could have been tied to the same olive tree every day. It’s rewarding knowing that those donkeys have the chance to show their personalities, feel safe and cared for, and enjoy life being with a herd instead of working and spending the days in solitude. Donkeys aren’t meant to be solitary animals, but a lot of times in Greece they become solitary animals because of the way they are kept.

One of my best experiences was when a donkey came into CDR and one of the guys who brought her in to the charity had mentioned something about a pregnant donkey, but as there was a language barrier, she thought there might have been a misunderstanding and didn’t think anything of it. The donkey continued gaining weight throughout the next few months, and the volunteers grew more and more suspicious that the donkey was indeed pregnant. One day, one of the volunteers went into the tented area and instantly realized that the donkey had just given birth to a healthy male baby donkey (photo below)! The joy of knowing this donkey would grow up not knowing any suffering or hunger and not having to be a working donkey was a testament to the great legacy of the hard work and dedication of everyone at CDR.

What does the future look like for the CDR?

I would say less donkeys in general. I think the organization is going to keep moving forward and expanding to give the donkeys that are there the best quality of life possible. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of Judy and everyone else at CDR, the organization can go on to continue to support donkeys in need.

1 Comment

Nov 17, 2023

Thanks to Jules for all her hard work!

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