Little donkeys prove to make big difference for enterprise volunteer

PUBLISHED: 13:59 27 December 2017 | UPDATED: 14:08 27 December 2017

Sandra Merritt with one of the miniature donkeys from Miniature Donkeys for Wellbeing. Picture: Sarah McPherson

Sandra Merritt with one of the miniature donkeys from Miniature Donkeys for Wellbeing. Picture: Sarah McPherson

Sarah McPherson

With their pivotal part in the nativity story, donkeys are part and parcel of this time of year.

Donkeys visiting the residents at Harleston House care home on Saturday 9th December 2017. Photo: Harleston HouseDonkeys visiting the residents at Harleston House care home on Saturday 9th December 2017. Photo: Harleston House

However for Lowestoft widow Sandra Merritt, the creatures provide cheer all year round, playing a big role in her life.

Mrs Merritt, whose husband Ray died from cancer in 2011, is a regular volunteer with Miniature Donkeys for Wellbeing, an enterprise which takes four miniature donkeys to visit elderly people in care homes.

It was set up in May by donkey-owner Sarah McPherson, a friend of Mrs Merritt who found her four miniature donkeys -Saffy, Bo Peep, Pippin and Pixie - to be a huge help while her mother was suffering with dementia.

Mrs Merritt, 69, who was already familiar with her friend’s creatures, was more than happy to get involved, and became one of the enterprise’s first volunteers.

She said: “After my husband died it left a void in my life and volunteering with Sarah has really helped with that.

“When she first invited me to meet them it was love at first sight - they have such a wonderful temperament and I really enjoyed getting to know them.”

Since Ms McPherson set up the enterprise, Mrs Merritt has been heavily involved, helping with care home visits, grooming the mini donkeys and coordinating further visits.

“Volunteering with Sarah and the donkeys is absolutely wonderful,” she added. “I really feel like I belong to something really important.

“The look people get on their faces when they see the donkeys is amazing - most of them say it brings back happy memories of seeing donkeys on the beach as children and it really makes their day.”

Her volunteering sees Mrs Merritt cover a lot of miles - she lives on Orford Drive in Lowestoft while Ms McPherson is based in Hempnall and visits take place all across Norfolk.

Now they are also hoping to extend their travels to Suffolk, having included Lowestoft, Carlton Colville and Bungay in their latest schedule.

Mrs Merrit added: “Sarah has really done a wonderful thing setting this up, and it is entirely not-for-profit. However, for this reason we do need to raise funds to keep the project alive. It’s really made a difference for me - I’ve made new friends through it and find it therapeutic myself.”

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