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The Donkeys and Me: A Memoir
by Sandra Pady



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Sandra Pady, Founder of The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada shares the story of the Sanctuary’s beginnings and its overriding vision in this warmly written memoir. Along the way, we learn more about donkeys, their unique behaviour and their surprising effect on those who interact with them. From the first chapter, here is an excerpt:

It is not unusual for me to be asked – and often with some surprise – how I came to establish a donkey sanctuary. After all, there are relatively few donkeys in twenty-first century Canada and even then, people want to know, what is there about donkeys that they deserve such extra-ordinary treatment? 

Answers to these questions are at the heart of my story. In 1991 when I started down the road of animal rescue work, I brought to the journey a host of assumptions about the world and my place in it. These convictions, prompted by singular influences, paved the way for my decision to start The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada.

I was born during the mid-twentieth century, in 1944, in Montreal, Quebec. Canada as a whole was different then: more provincial, less confident, conventional. Added to that, in my particular world there was the profound impact made upon me by my mother’s heritage and religion. Her French ancestors had come to New France in the 1700s where they dwelt in the isolated, priest-ruled villages of that rural society. I mention this fact because little had changed by the fifth decade of the 1900s. The doctrines of the Catholic Church shaped the development of people’s world views in Quebec at that time, including judgments about the human/animal relationship and how it played out. 

Although my father was an Irish Canadian, and a Presbyterian at that, my first two decades were spent tucked safely in the embrace of my mother’s religion, Roman Catholicism. There, I could find answers to every philosophical question I might ask: about life, death, good and evil, and the soul. Aspects of human behaviour and thought were subject to the guidelines found in the Catechism, and I had to become familiar with them in order to be eligible to make my First Communion at the age of seven.
Essentially, the Catechism was and is a collection of behavioural imperatives based on Church doctrine. It affirmed the certainty that of all the creatures on our planet, human beings were unique, made in the image of God and the only possessors of that intangible, exalted asset: a soul. As such, this separated us from the other animals. I was told they were immoral, incapable of feeling and lacking in intelligence, while humans possessed a sensitivity and refinement which allowed us to experience life on a loftier plain. As a result, in my childhood innocence whenever I expressed concern for dogs left outside on a chain throughout the winter, or horses who were shivering in an empty, frost-covered field, I was told – and with certainty – they were just fine. “Animals have no souls”, my mother would say, “so they can’t feel pain. They don’t know the difference.”
I did not have to be concerned after all.

Or that was what I told myself.

Unconsciously, though, I sensed a callous logic in that reasoning which resonated somewhere deep in my heart. Nevertheless, I did nothing about my concerns. My mother’s life was shaped around her commitment to the teachings of the Church. Answers to questions about the quality of treatment due to animals were there in black and white, in the Catechism and in the Daily Missal. For all those years, my mother’s convictions were mine as well. In addition, during that period as I grew through childhood and into my teens while living in Quebec and then Ontario, the endless diversions of daily existence, combined with a young person’s compliant nature, encouraged the suppression of any doubts. Instead, I smothered our pet cats and dogs with affection. Somehow, magically, this was supposed to make up for the suffering I might see being experienced by other animals.














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