Cornell Vet School Will Host 2016 Donkey Welfare Symposium

With monstrous head and sickening cry

And ears like errant wings,

The devil’s walking parody

On all four-footed things.

–G.K. Chesterton, “The Donkey”

What: Donkey Welfare Symposium (2016)

Where: Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA

When: September 30-October 2

Who: Veterinarians, donkey enthusiasts

Why: Continuing education on donkey healthcare and welfare

If you ask most readers of this article about their perceptions of donkeys, they’d smile and say, “So cute!”, “I love their ears!” “Adorable!” and they’d mean it. Many horses in the United States enjoy the companionship of miniature donkeys in their paddocks, and the countryside may ring with enthusiastic brays from pet and working donkeys of all shapes and sizes.

Donkeys play prominently in our literature; we grow up with them. Children embrace Eeyore from the Pooh books and “Donkey” in Shrek, then move on to Benjamin the wise donkey in Orwell’s Animal Farm and the nameless donkey ridden by Sancho the squire in Don Quixote

In religion, we have donkeys mentioned in Judaic, Islam and Hindu texts; the donkey is a positive symbol in Christianity, thanks to the donkey in the Christmas story, and Christ is described riding a donkey into Jerusalem. 

The donkey is the symbol of the Democratic Party in the United States.

But ask someone who has just returned from a developing nation, and she or he might stop and think before responding carefully about the perception of a donkey. If you’ve been there, you’ve seen them: Donkeys are ubiquitous in the developing world. They are the beasts of burden, the most valuable asset of a family, and provide hauling services that may make the differences between life and death.

“Ah, the donkeys.” The head will shake back and forth. “I felt so bad for them.”

Donkey advocates would like to change that observation. When it comes to animal welfare, a donkey earns its place near the head of the line. Often neglected, they suffer from ignorance and intentional abuse, from natural enemies and diseases, from poor-fitting harness and tack, from lack of care and farriery, and from overwork and overloading, most of all.

And often, they just keep going.

There are plenty of places where donkeys are well cared-for and healthy, treated as valued members of families and businesses, but donkey advocates would like to see more donkeys in that category than the former.

International charities like The Brooke and The Donkey Sanctuary, among others, are defenders and protectors of donkeys worldwide. They also are the educators, working on the ground in the developing world to teach owners about proper care and health. They also educate here in the developed world, by sponsoring PhD-level research to benefit donkeys, and by educating the public about the plight of donkeys in need of help.

Donkeys have a lot of friends, although they could use a lot more. And now they have their own conference.

The Donkey Welfare Symposium is a three-day meeting that brings information on all aspects of the care and welfare related to donkeys. This year, the event will be held as an extension of the 9th Annual New York State Veterinary Conference at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York.

The Symposium will aim to teach owners, trainers and veterinarians about the unique aspects of caring for donkeys and their differing veterinary needs. Healthcare topics will include: dermatology, dentistry, foot care and nutrition. Sunday afternoon the program will conclude with a donkey adoption event. Dr. Rebecca Gimenez will present her Command System related to Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue (TLAER) work on Sunday.

Donkeys from Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue will be on site and available for various labs and hands-on demonstrations throughout the event. Some specific highlights of the event include:

• Ben Hart from the UK Donkey Sanctuary will demonstrate the donkeys’ unique behavior and provide tips on how to handle them more effectively 

• Dr. Joao Rodrigues’ dentistry lab will showcase the nuances of dental procedures on donkeys 

• Dr. Karen Rickards will discuss donkey hyperlipemia, an all too common life-threatening disease of donkeys, plus speak about nutrition and preventative medicine 

• Demonstrations on proper donkey hoof care and restraint techniques 

• Fascinating veterinary cases involving working donkeys told by experts from around the globe 

• The story of “Smoke”, the Iraqi donkey, told by retired Marine Colonel John Folsom 

• Discussions of donkeys utilized for interventions as “therapy” animals • Donkey adoption event with Mark Meyers, executive director of Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue

The full conference program and information are available at the Donkey Welfare Symposium website. Continuing education credit is available for veterinarians and veterinary technicians who attend the meeting.

The University of California at Davis International Animal Welfare Training Institute hosted the first three Donkey Welfare Symposia in 2013, 2014 and 2015. This is the first time the symposium has been held in the eastern United States.

Top photo: Thanks to Carol von Canon, via

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