Donkey Sanctuary founder Elisabeth Svendsen, 81

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2011:

Elisabeth Svendsen, 81, founder of The Donkey Sanctuary,
died of a stroke on May 11, 2011 in Exeter, England. She appeared
to be “the picture of health” two days earlier, said Donkey
Sanctuary chief executive David Cook, when she gave the closing
speech at Donkey Week, celebrated at the Donkey Sanctuary
headquarters in east Devon.
Born Elisabeth Knowles in York-shire, “She became enamored
of donkeys when she was a girl,” wrote Emma Brown of the Washington
Post. “She worked as a teacher and a secretary before she and her
husband Niels started a family. They devised a dryer for baby
diapers, sold their invention to a manufacturer, and bought the
Salston Hotel at Ottery St. Mary in Devon.”

Svendsen acquired her first donkey, Naughty Face, in 1969,
“quickly followed by a donkey named Angelina,” recounts the Donkey
Sanctuary history. “Svendsen joined the Donkey Breed Society and
became their area representative. But at the Exeter Market one day,
she saw seven poor little donkeys crammed into a small pen,” the
history continues. “She tried to buy the donkey in the worst
condition, without success, and decided that instead of breeding
donkeys,” as she had intended, “she would try to save them.”
Forming the Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary, Svendsen “began
collecting blind donkeys, old donkeys, obese donkeys, donkeys with
breathing problems,” continued Brown of the Washington Post. “By
1973, she had 38 donkeys under her care. The cost was becoming
prohibitive. Then she received a call from a lawyer who said a woman
named Violet Philpin had bequeathed her 204 donkeys.”
Recalled Svendsen, “That’s when I stopped being a hotelier.
I had no choice.” Her marriage ended in divorce, but her career was
just beginning, assisted by June Evers, her best friend since they
met in grade school at age five. “They live together in the ‘big
house’ at the sanctuary, which–showing that The Donkey Sanctuary is
not just for donkeys–has a huge net aviary attached,” wrote the
late Bonny Shah for ANIMAL PEOPLE after visiting Svendsen and Evers
in 2002. Shah, who founded sanctuaries in Texas and India,
described her visit as a “pilgrimage to donkey heaven.”
In 1975 Svendsen started a “donkey therapy” program for
special needs children. This grew into the Elisabeth Svendsen Trust,
now operating six therapy centers around the U.K. and others in Italy
and Spain. The newest, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, opened only
a few days before her death.
Founding the International Donkey Trust in 1976, to assist
the Barrett Animal Sanctuary in Liscarroll, Ireland, Svendsen later
merged the trust with the Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary to form The
Donkey Sanctuary as it exists today.
The Donkey Sanctuary outreach to Ireland yielded such
encouraging results that Svendsen followed up by introducing field
clinics to help donkeys in Mexico in 1984, conducted since 1991 with
help from the International League for the Protection of Horses. The
Donkey Sanctuary also started a donkey clinic in Addis Ababa,
Ethiopia in 1986, adding mobile units in 1994, and built a complete
donkey hospital in 1999 at the Addis Ababa University veterinary
school. A second Donkey Sanctuary hospital recently opened in the
Addis Ababa grain market district. Svendsen opened the Lamu Donkey
Sanctuary on an island off the coast of Kenya in 1987. Since 1994
the Donkey Sanctuary has also funded a donkey hospital and harness
workshop at the Kenya SPCA in Nairobi.
The Barrett Animal Sanctuary became formally affiliated as
the Donkey Sanctuary of Ireland in 1988. Donkey Sanctuary affiliates
in Gurgaon, Bhatti, and Ahmedabad, India, debuted in 1998, 2003,
and 2004. El Refugio del Burrito, a Donkey Sanctuary affiliate in
Spain, opened in 2003.
Altogether, the Donkey Sanctuary now operates or sponsors
programs in 29 nations, “reaching over 400,000 donkeys in our five
main overseas project countries alone,” said Cook.
Svendsen wrote books including A Passion for Donkeys (1989);
Down Among the Donkeys (1995); The Bumper Book of Donkeys (1996);
In Defense of the Donkeys (1997); For the Love of Donkeys (1998);
and The Professional Handbook of the Donkey (1998). Svendsen was
named a Mistress of the British Empire, equivalent to a knighthood,
in 1980, and was honoured by the Royal SPCA in 2001 for lifetime
achievements in animal welfare.

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