Tributes to Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary founder

Dr S: “She will be impossible to replace” says son Paul after death of Donkey Sanctuary founder

THE woman who wanted a donkey and ended up founding an international donkey welfare charity, has died, following a stroke.

Dr Elisabeth Svendsen MBE, founder of The Donkey Sanctuary at Sidmouth and its sister charity, the Elisabeth Svendsen Trust for Children and Donkeys, suffered a stroke on Wednesday morning and died, with family at her bedside, a few hours later. She was 81.

On Monday, she gave a lively closing speech at the end of this year’s Donkey Week.

Dr S, as she was affectionately known, founded the Sanctuary in 1969 after finding seven donkeys in a poor condition, crammed in a small pen at Exeter market.

She tried and failed to buy the donkey in the worst condition, and decided, from that moment on, to dedicate her life to saving donkeys and mules in distress.

She then inherited 204 donkeys and in 1972 officially registered Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary as a charity.

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Since then, the Sanctuary has given more than 14,500 donkeys and mules lifelong care in the UK, Ireland and mainland Europe, and helps working donkeys in desperate need in 29 countries around the world.

In 2009, Dr S joined staff, friends and supporters in celebrating the Sanctuary’s 40th anniversary.

Then she said: “Help a donkey and you help the poorest people in the land. It has been a wonderful 40 years to see my dreams come true.”

In 2007, Dr S retired as chief executive through ill-health but still contributed much. She was a prolific author and published - with many others - books about her work for the Donkey Sanctuary and EST.

Her successor, David Cook, said today: “The loss of Dr Svendsen will be felt deeply by her staff, who loved her dearly, as well as Donkey Sanctuary supporters all over the world.

“Her son Paul and granddaughter Dawn remain deeply involved with The Donkey Sanctuary’s work and our heart goes out to the family at this devastating time.

“The charity that Dr Svendsen built from nothing to the international organisation it is today, will continue its work in her memory, holding fast to her vision of a world in which every donkey and mule receives the care and respect it so needs.”

A shocked Paul, who manages the main-line European arm of the charity from Spain, flew home when he heard the news.

Yesterday (Thursday) he exclusively told the Sidmouth Herald: “She will be impossible to replace. So many people, not just here, but all over the world, will miss mum.

“She was working that morning at home, looking after her animals. To the very last minute she was doing what she cared for most, looking after animals and people.”

Dr S had another nickname – Mama Punda – ‘mother to all of us’.

She was made an MBE in 1980 and last year was awarded the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa by Edinburgh University in recognition of decades of dedicated charity work.

Her granddaughter, Dawn Vincent, is head of communications at the Sidmouth Sanctuary and was involved in the visit to EST by the Duke and Duchess of Wessex in 2007.

Dr Svendsen leaves four children, two sons and two daughters, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, as well as many admirers around the world.