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I began shooting this essay out of regret.
I was sick a lot as a kid and my parents bought me a donkey, named Suki, to cheer me up and get me out of the house.
And it helped. We’d play chasey, or tag, taking it in turns to run each other down through her bush paddock.
She was better at it than me. I’d be running like the world was going to end and within seconds I’d feel her pounding the ground behind me and feel her breath hot on my shirt and I’d glance over my shoulder and she’d be right there, shaking her head like she was laughing. That meant it was my turn to chase her and I’d raise my arms above my head, a donkey-eating monster, and she’d bolt off across the paddock.
But as I grew older I didn’t spend much time with her. I was 16 and there were friends and movies and girls to worry about.
She got lonely. Sometimes she’d glimpse me up near the house and she’d honk at me, long and sad. Sometimes I went down to see her, but most times I didn’t.
She also brayed at a couple of donkeys at a neighbours place and eventually it got under my skin. I gave her to the neighbours so that she’d have some company. They owned a swampy block and a year or two later she was bitten by a snake and died.
A decade passed and I was working as a journalist at a community newspaper when a lady running a donkey shelter, Dr May Dodd, rang to say she was bankrupt and would be forced to shoot her donkeys because she couldn’t afford to feed them. She had made it her mission to rescue abused, neglected and tortured donkeys from around Australia and nurse them back to health at her sanctuary, Diamond Creek Donkey Shelter, and now they were starving.
It was heartbreaking. I wrote a story and Australian TV, radio and daily newspapers picked it up and ran large features, which generated tens of thousands of dollars and saved Dr Dodd’s motley herd.
I felt good for helping. It made me feel better about Suki.
I began hanging around the shelter taking pictures, making this essay.
Emotionally donkeys aren’t very different from people. They form loyal friendships, singling out other donkeys and volunteers as favourites. They have a sense of justice and know when they’re being mistreated – abused donkeys often arrive at the shelter with mental health problems. They experience anger, jealousy, happiness, sadness.
If more people knew that I think they’d treat them better.
During daylight hours Andy Drewitt is a photographer, reporter and videographer at Diamond Valley Leader, a community newspaper in Victoria, Australia. He is also working on independent photography projects on subjects including mental illness, rabies and the Republic of Armenia.