Caring for Bonaire's donkeys

A Dutch couple creates a shelter for abused and abandoned animals,despite little money, local apathy, and the threat of theft.

Dominique, Julio, Bonnie, Foster, and Sniffy are the fortunate ones. They are among more than 40 animals who live in the Donkeys' Sanctuary on Bonaire.

Tourists visiting Bonaire, a small Dutch Caribbean island 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela, come to scuba dive. But they can't miss seeing the 600 donkeys who wander freely throughout the desert island. The donkeys were brought to Bonaire in the 1800s as work animals. When their labor was eventually performed by machinery, they were set free.

When Marina Melis visited the island six years ago as a tourist from Holland, she immediately saw that many of the donkeys were sick, malnourished, injured, or mistreated. Mrs. Melis had raised donkeys as pets and knew they did not usually fare well as feral creatures. She and her husband, Ed, began helping the donkeys however they could, and three years ago founded the sanctuary with their own money. The couple also manages a local condominium complex for tourists.

The Melises' efforts haven't been welcomed by some of their neighbors. The islanders, descendants of the Dutch and former slaves, live in poverty. Some of them can't understand why people would try to help stray donkeys. At the sanctuary, poisoned food has been left for the animals, and the gift shop has been robbed numerous times.

Undeterred, the Melises rescue donkeys at least once or twice a week - sometimes tipped off by a phone call.

Each donkey has a story.

Beauty, a playful, chocolate-brown donkey who behaves more like a puppy, jumps, leaps, and charges. When Beauty was a month old, he was thrown over the sanctuary fence almost dead from starvation. (Islanders often steal the cute baby donkeys from their mothers but don't know how to care for them.)

Beauty got a bottle every three hours, day and night, for a year. He came home with Mrs. Melis every evening and slept in the house. Now Beauty is a spoiled, precocious donkey with energy to spare. He is usually the first to greet visitors at the sanctuary gate.

Lucky is the shy and gentle one. The donkey, deaf in both ears, was standing in the middle of a street unaware of the cars, when Mrs. Melis got a phone call to rescue him.

Many animals live out their lives in the peaceful sanctuary. Some do not.

Recently the Melises answered a call to help a baby donkey stuck for several days in the mud. After a day of hard work by the Melises and volunteers, the animal was extricated and taken to the sanctuary. Despite their heroic efforts, the animal died.

The Melises have dedicated their lives to helping the donkeys. Volunteers sometimes arrive from Holland to help construct fences or buildings, or capture feral donkeys. Donations do not begin to cover the food and veterinary bills for the animals.

*For information, contact Donkeys' Sanctuary, Punt Vierkant 5, Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles. Telephone: 011 599 77233.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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