By Charles Wade-Palmer
A little girl who had been mute since birth uttered her first words – saying ‘I love you’ – to a DONKEY.
Little Amber Austwick hadn’t spoken a word in her life – but her parents were stunned when they heard her tell a rescue donkey called Shocks she had befriended that she loved him.
The family, from Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, visited The Donkey Sanctuary near their home, so Amber could pet the animals as therapy.
But after developing a special bond with one of the donkeys, Shocks, who had been rescued from abuse, mum Tracy, 39, took Amber there as often as possible.
And after weeks of bonding, Amber said her first words.
Mum Tracy Austwick, 39, said: “It was such an emotional moment. I couldn’t believe my daughter had finally found her voice.
“Once she met Shocks he brought her out of her shell, she’s a lot more confident with him and with friends at school who she loves to talk to about him and the donkey sanctuary.
“Some friends of ours we met in hospital who also had a premature baby with complications, suggested we tried out the sanctuary.
“They said to us about the donkeys and so in 2012 we went there and found Shocks who had arrived at the sanctuary two years earlier.
“It was quite scary really, Shocks was in the arena and the riding instructor took little Amber to him and I found it scary for me because Shocks was so much bigger than her.
“But Amber wasn’t scared and Shocks was really excited to meet her and they’ve kept that bond ever since.”
Parents Julian and Tracy could not have anticipated just how effective the therapy would be and after several visits their mute daughter started to talk.
Twins Amber and Hope were born 20 minutes apart in June 2010Â and were hurried to intensive care where their breathing was assisted while covered in bubble wrap.
Hope weighing 1lb 12oz and Amber 1lb 9oz both suffered bleeds to their lungs and had their own separate complications but when Hope got stronger Amber needed a tracheotomy.
The emergency operation saved her life but restricted air to her vocal cords causing her to be mute and completely unable to express herself through laughter or words.
Becoming a little girl’s best friend and living at a donkey sanctuary is a long way from the condition Shocks was found in by rescuers.
The hooved fourth member of the Austwick family was found lying almost strangled on an Irish farm with a rope tied tightly around his neck.
His owner thought pouring bleach over his horrific wounds and sores would help him recover but having been given a new lease of life, Amber has been as much therapy to him as he has to her.
Mum Tracy loved the sanctuary so much that she now works there meaning the family have grown only closer to the rescued donkey.
Tracy said: “When we have a study club at the sanctuary Amber will always visit Shocks and she still sees him whenever she can.
“He’s part of the family now he’s really lovely and so patient with Amber.
“I think donkeys are a lot calmer and they’re more patient with children with special needs than ponies.
“She cleaning his eyes as recently as last week which she really enjoyed.
“Her speech is getting better and she has a speaking valve which forces air out of her mouth which really helps.
“When she does struggle for breath such as in PE at school she needs to turn it for an extra breath.”
Father Julian Austwick said: “We could see how strong a bond they had almost straight away by the way they were both so gentle with each other.
“Shocks would lower his head to her and would allow her to hold him around his neck and they really seemed smitten”