A visit to Agia Marina Donkey Rescue, Crete!

Starting March 30th, our equine dental technician, Alkis, and farrier, Vaios, visited Agia Marina Donkey Rescue in Petrokefali, Crete, last month to offer their services to the 32 retired donkeys who live there! The sanctuary has been there for over 25 years now, offering peace and safety to old, abused and abandoned donkeys. Half of the donkeys at the shelter are over 20 years old, while Hara, Stefanos, Erotokritos, Kassandra and Alexandra can be proud to have passed well over their third decade of life and flirting with their fourth!

31 donkeys received dental care and hoof trimming. This year, generally, the health of these donkeys’ teeth was better than previous years. The main problems encountered included sharp enamel points (much smaller than in previous years), small hooks and ramps (mostly in the younger animals, but some required power floating). One very loose and rotten tooth was extracted from a donkey, relieving it from pain, and comfort floating was offered to the very elderly ones, whose mouths were not in the best state. Five donkeys had more severe dental problems and required treatment with electric equipment, which was given during a supplementary visit in April. The most serious case was an elderly female donkey who could not move her jaws sufficiently due to severe shear mouth (steep and overgrown sharp enamel points, that completely prevent the sideways movement). Extended dental treatment was considered necessary for her to start chewing and moving her jaws again. Since dental treatment is required regularly in these cases and not just annually, Alkis will repeat her treatment voluntarily in several months’ time.

Hercules was another donkey who received some extra care to his hooves, having gone through a difficult rescue. He was transported to the shelter in November, with the support of CARAT (Caring for the Animals Trust), after having been found abandoned in the streets, in a terrible state and rescued in Karditsa, by the local welfare group Diasozo Animal Rescue. An interesting coincidence was that our farrier, Vaios, was the farrier who had originally treated Hercules in Karditsa when he was rescued. At the time, Hercules’ hooves were overgrown and terribly distorted. It was a nice surprise for Vaios to see his progress while also being given the opportunity to give him further treatment.

Vaios trimming hooves
Alkis rasping teeth

Another very elderly rescue donkey, Odyseus, is fostered by responsible owners and living in a village near the sanctuary. His body condition had significantly improved since last year, due to receiving dental treatment and a change in food, suitable for geriatric donkeys. Our Equine Care Programme Coordinator, Elisa, had offered invaluable veterinary advice and support over the phone last autumn, when Odyseus had suffered from oesophagus impaction. His owners were extremely worried but followed the veterinary advice and thankfully, he recovered. Odyseus’ carers also passed onto the team the warm wishes and gratitude of the owner of an old (28 years) horse stallion, Ermis, who we had treated last year. They also showed us current photos that the owner had sent. According to the owner, Ermis has gained weight and is now in excellent condition for his age.

Paul McGlone, Director and Trustee of Animal Action Greece, travelled to Crete in order to be present during the team’s outreach and had the chance to see the team working non-stop, due to the large number of donkeys that needed to be treated in one day! Paul also had the chance to personally meet Hercules, whom he has been sponsoring privately and discuss with Fanis and Barbara the difficulties and everyday life of an equine shelter, as well as take some very nice photos!

But Paul was also there to look into the wider animal welfare issues of equids. Donkeys and mules have an important role in many areas of daily life in Greece, and this is still so throughout Crete. Animal Action Greece continues to seek to reach as many of those as possible to provide care and, if needed, educate owners on such things as proper nutrition and diet to avoid common health problems. Rescue Shelters like Agia Marina Donkey Rescue often see the worst side of animal abuse and abandonment in Greece, when equids are surrendered to them, often injured or near death. They provide an amazing sanctuary to these deserving animals with a happy and healthy retirement!

But there are working equids seen in many places on Crete. From the Samaria Gorge mules, managed by the Samaria National Park and used for transport and as ‘mule ambulances’ for injured walkers, to donkey rides at the ‘Psychro Cave’ (the fabled birth place of Zeus the Greek God). Donkeys are also seen in the remote hillside monasteries as well as with traditional shepherds herding sheep on the high plateaus of the ‘White Mountains’ (Λευκά Όρη). Our role is to ensure donkeys and mules have their welfare seen as the primary duty of owners and those who choose to work with these beautiful, intelligent and loyal creatures to help earn their living!  

We would like to thank Barbara and Fanis for their hospitality, as always, and for the nice meal they offered. Our thanks also to Danny Zie who happened to be present during the day, for the beautiful photos and videos she sent us.

Paul and Hercules
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