By Jess Grieveson-Smith
A miniature pony has taken on the ultimate task – training a cheeky donkey to perform therapy alongside him.
Alfie, the therapy pony has taken on his newest recruit – Isla, a feisty miniature donkey who has just started her therapy training – and doesn’t always behave to the best of her ability.
Whilst an unconventional animal to be picked for therapy sessions, Isla, a miniature donkey has only just turned two – and is picking up new skills all the time like resting her head next to bed-bound patients, getting her boots on and playing with a ball.
Bringing a smile to the faces of the patients she now meets, Isla follows in Alfie’s footsteps as she works in care homes, with end of life patients and those battling serious health issues.
Isla’s namesake is one that is especially meaningful as it’s a promise from her owner, Sara Kelly, 49 that she’d continue a little girl’s wish.
Isla, aged seven, from Leicester formed a special connection with Alfie during her therapy sessions as she battled a terminal brain tumour.
Working with Isla for a whole year before she lost her fight, Sara was determined to train a new animal in the little girl’s name – to continue spreading job and making people smile.
Sara, who now works with her therapy animals – including guinea pigs as well as multiple horses – full time, said: “Alfie formed a connection with Isla that made me determined I would do something for her.
“Alfie usually was dressed as a unicorn for Isla, and he learnt to be patient and calm – which is why he’s the best teacher for the donkey.
“Now Alfie and Isla the donkey, are a team – Alfie is always the main show, as he’s bright and clever, the rest just seem to follow him.
“He sets an example for Isla – she’s only two and hasn’t quite mastered the art of being calm and quiet all the time.
“But she follows Alfie’s example – whether it’s dressing up, giving kisses to those wanting them or passing a ball around, she’s always eager to do whatever Alfie is up to.
“But now she puts on her boots like Alfie, which is part of our job, as all animals are required to as to make them as clean and easy for those they’re helping.
“She’s learnt to keep still as they’re always immaculately cleaned before we got to any job, and she’s able to stand on a box, move a ball and be petted.
“Isla’s already getting requests as she’s so friendly and her very nature means she’s bound to put a smile on people’s faces.
“Last year, she was in a nativity, and we’re set to work with another little girl in this coming summer who’s battling cancer.
“She’s struggling with anxiety and I’m hoping by then that Isla will have learnt from Alfie and will be a model student.
“We don’t always get paid and rely off donations in the main, but when I saw how much my animals can help people, I knew it was something I had to do.
“I was a care-worker previously, and I’ve owned horses all my life.
“So to merge the two just seemed a natural progression and the joy I get to see?
“It’s the best job in the world.”