New audiobook tells tale of the donkey sanctuary’s founder

An audio book on the work of The Donkey Sanctuary's founder Dr Elisabeth Svendsen has been released.

An audio book on the work of The Donkey Sanctuary's founder Dr Elisabeth Svendsen has been released. Picture: The Donkey Sanctuary - Credit: Archant

The dramatic story of how a pioneering animal lover saved 200 donkeys from imminent death, and in doing so inadvertently launched one of the world’s largest animal welfare charities, has been immortalised as a free audiobook this Christmas.

Down Among the Donkeys charts the life of Dr Elisabeth Svendsen, the founder of The Donkey Sanctuary, and follows the fledgling organisation's progress from a small farm in Sidmouth to becoming a multinational organisation working across the world.

The audiobook, based on Dr Svendsen's first autobiography, charts the journey through revealing anecdotes, such as the tale of the donkey with a penchant for trips to the pub and the time hundreds of volunteers blocked country roads to move a herd of donkeys to the sanctuary's headquarters in Sidmouth.

The autobiography recalls the transformative moment in 1970 when Dr Svendsen first saw seven terrified, lice-infested donkeys with twisted overgrown hooves, crammed into a pen at an Exeter livestock market and vowed to dedicate her life to saving donkeys in distress.

In 1973, there came a major turning point as Dr Svendsen received a phone call that led her to launch The Donkey Sanctuary.

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In the book, Dr Svendsen describes receiving the call: "'Mrs Svendsen, you've been left a legacy,' said the voice at the end of the line. Visions of thousands of pounds floated across my mind - I'd never had a legacy before. 'How wonderful, how much?', 'It's 204 donkeys!' said the caller, ' are to take as many as you can and those you are unable to take will be shot.'"

Dr Svendsen already had 38 donkeys in her care and costs were starting to spiral, so another 204 seemed impossible, but she knew she could not leave them to their fate.

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Since its foundation in 1969, The Donkey Sanctuary has grown from a charity rescuing UK donkeys from neglect and abuse to an international welfare organisation transforming the lives of millions of donkeys and mules and the people who depend on them for a living.

Dr Svendsen died in 2011 aged 81, but her legacy continues through the work of staff and volunteers at what is now the largest equine charity in the world.

The audiobook, read by Cath Bradley, is free to download from iTunes and other podcast providers, or visit to download it.

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