Based on an interview with Manée Severin, psychomotor therapist and co-founder of Medi-ane*, a French association and international network for social welfare, health, and assistance-oriented activities with donkeys.
When it comes to human-animal interaction, people generally think of dogs or horses rather than donkeys. Indeed, man has traditionally used donkeys for farming and everyday assistance, not necessarily noticing that they are able to fulfill these roles effectively because of their psychological as well as physical qualities.
A donkey will only work with a person if it feels safe and secure. Donkeys are said to be “taught” rather than trained, so a person must connect with a donkey before moving on to a specific activity. It is important to know that donkeys communicate in a particular fashion. They are curious but cautious; they need time to understand and learn new things. Donkeys focus and clearly think about what they are asked to do, which is why they tend to negotiate instead of simply following instructions. Donkeys cannot be rushed, however they are sensitive to people’s emotions and quite trusting.
The calm, steady pace that donkeys generally display is an asset when it comes to donkey-assisted activities. Taking time to get to know each other leads to reassuring interaction and collaborative, mutually beneficial assistance.
(*) Médi’âne was created in 2002 and has offered donkey-assisted activities since 2003.