THE Donkey Sanctuary has partnered with the charity Pete’s Dragons to help people who have been bereaved by suicide.

Families dealing with grief were invited to experience a donkey-facilitated life skills session at the Sanctuary, spend time grooming the donkeys as well as taking part in an ‘approach and connect’ activity.

Staff at The Donkey Sanctuary made sure each person was able to spend some time on their own with a pair of donkeys and they were asked to evaluate the donkey’s reactions as they approached.

The programme is designed specifically for vulnerable children and adults, with an aim of developing some key life skills as defined by the World Health Organisation.

Interactions with the donkeys provide opportunities for emotional connection, social interaction, communication and developing life skills.

The visit proved incredibly worthwhile and was described as an “unforgettable experience”.

Eilish Pryce, equine assistant at The Donkey Sanctuary, said: “Donkeys are able to pick up on the non-verbal communication of all sentient creatures that surround them, including humans and will respond accordingly.

“By observing the donkeys’ reactions to us, we can receive real-time feedback and develop greater awareness of ourselves with no bias or agenda.”

Devon-based Pete’s Dragons helps people living through the suicide of a loved one through their ‘Hug in a Hamper’, financial support, a listening service, advice and contacts for other services.

Kate Bedding, project manager at Pete’s Dragons, said: “Taking part in the donkey-facilitated learning programme was a fantastic opportunity and we were delighted to be offered the life skills sessions.

“As part of our service, we organise children and family fun days designed to bring together those with a shared experience and send a clear message that it is ok to smile and enjoy time together with family and others.

“It was a lovely chance for the children to get up close with the donkeys and fabulous for one of our clients, who is in a wheelchair, to give him the chance to groom them.

“It was wonderful to watch our group interact with the donkeys and have the support of the staff.

“It was an enjoyable experience for everyone that I think they will not forget in a while.”