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‘World domination with miniature donkeys’ - A woman and her squad of tiny donkeys take on dementia

PUBLISHED: 16:57 15 November 2018 | UPDATED: 17:22 15 November 2018

Sarah McPherson started Mini Donks in May 2017 as a social enterprise that offers visits from its miniature donkeys to care homes, schools and hospitals to relieve stress and improve wellbeing.
PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Sarah McPherson started Mini Donks in May 2017 as a social enterprise that offers visits from its miniature donkeys to care homes, schools and hospitals to relieve stress and improve wellbeing. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

(c) 2018 Archant Norfolk Prospect House Rouen Road Norwich

As part of our partnership with the East of England Co-Op, we are shining a light on the Community Heroes improving lives across the county.

Reporter Bethany Wales spoke to Sarah McPherson about her squad of miniature donkeys, which are fighting dementia one back scratch at a time

Sarah McPherson started Mini Donks in May 2017 as a social enterprise that offers visits from its miniature donkeys to care homes, schools and hospitals to relieve stress and improve wellbeing.
PICTURE: Jamie HoneywoodSarah McPherson started Mini Donks in May 2017 as a social enterprise that offers visits from its miniature donkeys to care homes, schools and hospitals to relieve stress and improve wellbeing. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Having cared for both her parents through dementia, the Hempnall Green donkey lover has first hand experience of her donkeys’ therapeutic power.

She said: “My mum used to love the donkeys and would spend time with them out in the yard. I used to get a bit of my mum back.”

Following her mother’s death in 2017, Mrs McPherson said she decided “life is too short” and quit her job to start social enterprise, Mini Donks.

In their first year, her seven donkeys and team of hard working volunteers visited more than 200 care homes, special schools and community groups.

Sarah McPherson started Mini Donks in May 2017 as a social enterprise that offers visits from its miniature donkeys to care homes, schools and hospitals to relieve stress and improve wellbeing.
PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood
Sarah McPherson started Mini Donks in May 2017 as a social enterprise that offers visits from its miniature donkeys to care homes, schools and hospitals to relieve stress and improve wellbeing. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Working in pairs, the donkeys bring their own unique personalities to bedsides and gardens across the county, raising smiles and bringing people out of their shells.

The miniature animals are remarkably affectionate and Mrs McPherson said they adore cuddles and grooming.

They have also been trained to be unfazed by unusual surroundings.

The proud owner said: “You go in somewhere with an oxygen machine going or an electric wheelchair and all kinds of paraphernalia everywhere – they’ll just walk in and say hello.

Sarah McPherson started Mini Donks in May 2017 as a social enterprise that offers visits from its miniature donkeys to care homes, schools and hospitals to relieve stress and improve wellbeing.
PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood
Sarah McPherson started Mini Donks in May 2017 as a social enterprise that offers visits from its miniature donkeys to care homes, schools and hospitals to relieve stress and improve wellbeing. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

“On every single visit there’s always one person that you think if nobody else got anything from it, it was worth it for that one person.”

While visiting a home for people with severe dementia, Mrs McPherson said she came across a man slumped in the corner, hands in fists and completely unresponsive.

He was taken to the donkey enclosure and a staff member laid his hand on one of the creature’s backs. His hand opened up.

Recognising the reaction, Mrs McPherson handed the man a brush and he responded by expertly grooming the donkey head to foot, humming as he worked.

Sarah McPherson started Mini Donks in May 2017 as a social enterprise that offers visits from its miniature donkeys to care homes, schools and hospitals to relieve stress and improve wellbeing.
PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood
Sarah McPherson started Mini Donks in May 2017 as a social enterprise that offers visits from its miniature donkeys to care homes, schools and hospitals to relieve stress and improve wellbeing. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

To the Mini Donks owner, it seemed clear he had worked with horses and the physical contact triggered reminiscence.

After a successful first year, Mrs McPherson said she was thrilled the East of England Co-op chose to support Little Donks through their token scheme, awarding her £1,500.

She said: “They’ve been really, really supportive. People would send me screenshots of the token box to show how full Mini Donks was. They’ve been brilliant.”

The future is world domination with mini donks! I would love for more animal therapy to be out there because it so beneficial and people really love it and respond to it.”

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