Everything starts with behavior

Everything starts with behavior

So often when I work with behaviour it is such a brief connection in the life of an animal or person and then I hear no more. It might be an email enquiry about a kicking donkey from the USA, a phone call about a nervous donkey in France, advice to a member of The Donkey Sanctuary welfare team or a visit to one of our farms to help with a problem, or may be spending time with a participant on a behaviour course who has a problem with their donkey. I always presume no news is good news, but I often don’t know how things turned out or if I made a difference.

To utilise a well worn phrase, it feels like I am always planting seeds, but seldom have chance to nurture them or see them grow.

Planting a seed was exactly what it felt like I had done with the behaviour training in Kenya and Ethiopia, so I was excited to learn what the harness teams have been doing with this seedling since the training in 2011 and 2012. However, I also wanted to make sure that I knew what the teams needed from me during the training and asking them what problems they have, what they needed to learn, and the questions they wanted answered so I could make sure I could use my limited time with them most efficiently. So finding out what the teams had been doing would agonisingly have to wait until Tuesday morning.

“Where were you 4 years ago?” was my first question of Tuesday morning. “What were you doing before we did the training?” The curse of knowledge means that it is very difficult to remember what it was like before your learnt something and how you behaved before you gained a new skill or attitude. The different groups, however, described working without knowing about the behaviour of donkeys, stories of having to physically restrain almost every donkey and misunderstanding the intent of donkeys’ behaviour were bravely and honestly laid on the table. The content of the teams’ training to schools, vets and communities was about restraint, control and direct treatment. Don’t get me wrong, they cared for the donkeys back then but there was something missing in the understanding of donkeys and mules.

“Ok, so where are you now?”. Well it was like opening flood gate. The tiny seed had well and truly grown into a forest and I have to confess to not only being speechless but also to welling up with emotion and being truly proud of the work of these amazing people.

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