Ausnew Home Care | Sunshine Coast's blind donkey inspires kids' book, raising funds for Happily Heifer After Sanctuary

Sunshine Coast's blind donkey inspires kids' book, raising funds for Happily Heifer After Sanctuary

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As Mavis Armstrong sat on the front steps of her Tin Can Bay home, listening to the natter of the holidaying children, the girls started "chirping" about electric fences.

She was instantly curious.

"They sort of looked a little bit not farm-type kids, and I'm thinking, 'How do you know about electric fences?' So I asked," Mrs Armstrong, a former cattle farmer, said.    

"And [one girl] starts the story, 'Oh, we go and see Sam the blind donkey', and [says] how much they like Sam, and I didn't get much more of the story than that."

The children left their holiday house the next day and returned to the Sunshine Coast.

But Mrs Armstrong couldn't get those four words — Sam the blind donkey — out of her mind.

So the 75-year-old did what she'd done a handful of other times in the past year when animals resonated with her — she jumped out of bed and started writing.

Part-way through the process, she felt a little overwhelmed, so the book sat on the shelf for some time.

Front cover of a story book with the words Sam the blind donkey
Mrs Armstrong includes a dedication in the book to the Sunshine Coast family who first mentioned Sam.(Supplied: Mavis Armstrong)

Eventually she took to the pages once again, and upon finishing the story she shared the tale of Sam the blind donkey with a neighbour's child — a move which led to meeting Sam in real life.

The neighbour recognised Sam from an ABC story during the February floods and showed the online story to the "not very tech savvy" Mrs Armstrong, who successfully tracked down the donkey at a sanctuary on the Sunshine Coast.

"He really did exist ... and I was able to ascertain that yes, Sam was totally and completely blind," she said.

Who is the real Sam?

Sam has been at the Happily Heifer After Sanctuary for about 18 months.

"He was used in television and movie production and then he also worked at a theme park for a while so the stressful aspects of what he did were actually what led him to be blind," sanctuary co-founder Michelle Dranfield said.

"He was put into escalators and lifts, he was put into a convertible ... a lot of different, really strange things that he did when he was acting as a stunt animal."

She said animal welfare regulations had become tougher since then.

After Sam was "discarded" from the entertainment industry, an older couple cared for him for nearly 15 years until he was moved to the Palmview sanctuary.

He arrived there with his "seeing companion" donkey and best friend, Jack.

"Once he's been in an enclosure for probably about a couple of days, he kind of knows that enclosure," Ms Dranfield said.

"He'll bump into maybe something a few times then ... he'll just navigate his way based on his memory of the area.

Two donkeys standing side by side
Sam and "seeing companion" Jack have been at the sanctuary for about 18 months.(Supplied: Happily Heifer After Sanctuary)

Sam, a "loving, placid, docile and trusting" donkey, is part of the sanctuary's animal assisted therapy program.

"Particularly people with physical disabilities can probably relate more to him than they can a fully abled animal because they see the struggles that he has to deal with and it kind of relates to their struggles on a day-to-day basis," Ms Dranfield said.

Donkey standing with a protector over his eyes
The sanctuary estimates Sam is about 30 years old.(Supplied: Happily Heifer After Sanctuary)

Ms Dranfield was not surprised that Sam resonated with the local children so much that they went on to share his story with Mrs Armstrong.

"I think he really, really connects with people because of his personality and because of his nature, so it was incredible to hear the story and hear how it came about," she said.

Sam in a storybook

While Mrs Armstrong wrote her story before she knew Sam's real-life story, the two are extremely similar. 

"The story of Sam is to demonstrate that even with adversity, there are many positives each day," she said. 

"In the book I tell the story about his everyday life, how anyone or any creature would live with blindness, because we've still got the blessings of being cared for. 

a page of a story book about a blind donkey who uses his hearing to know when food is coming
While Sam doesn't have his sight, he uses other senses.(Supplied: Mavis Armstrong)

The book also incorporates the friendship of the "true and caring" Jack, a young boy who visits Sam.

Mrs Armstrong has agreed to have the book printed as a fundraiser for the sanctuary.

"I sort of saw it as a means of helping them ... to raise much-needed cash to buy all the hay and all the feed and all the care that the animals need," she said.

"I thought if they were agreeable, they were welcome to my story."

Women feeding a donkey watermelon.
Sam enjoys his favourite snack of watermelon with Mrs Armstrong.(Supplied: Mavis Armstrong)
Source: ABC

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