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Fifteen years ago Tracy Garton came across a mule being ill-treated by gypsies, being an animal lover Tracy could not stand by and watch so much pain being inflicted on such a humble creature. With only a few pounds in the bank and a small back garden Tracy borrowed £250 from relatives to pay what the gypsies were demanding for the release of the mule. Tracy then persuaded a local farmer to let "Muffin" the mule (what else would you call a mule!) graze one of his fields. Muffin promptly took five minutes to chase 100 cows out of the field, the farmer took three days to get them back! The farmer then decided to try Muffin in the field with his sheep, Muffin did not take a liking to the sheep either and bit them all and consequently was banned from the farm. Tracy had no alternative but to rent some land by the river at Radcliffe-on-Trent and that is how the Sanctuary began. To keep Muffin company Tracy had a donkey called Linda on loan each winter. Linda worked on Skegness beach each summer, her back became so badly dipped from carrying weight too heavy for her, it had damaged her stomach muscles giving the impression that she was pregnant. At the start of each summer season it broke Tracy's heart to have to give Linda back, she knew that she wasn't up to being ridden, but because of her kind and gentle nature she was an asset that the owner did not want to part with. After two or three seasons of having to send Linda back to work Tracy finally managed to raise £350 to pay for her release, Linda then lived happily with Muffin for the rest of her life. Sadly Muffin is no longer with us, during an operation it was discovered that he had cancer, there was no alternative but to put him to sleep. Muffin will always be remembered as the unpredictable, stubborn, founder resident of the Sanctuary. He at least received love and kindness during his last few years. The land rented by Tracy was in a sorry state, it took quite a time to clear all the debris of burnt out cars and other rubbish, the number of donkeys being rescued increased, more stables had to be built, fences errected and more land rented, it was costing in the region of £20,000 a year to keep going, which was when Tracy and her husband Steve had to consider fund-raising. The first 'Open Day' was a huge success and brought in almost half the income necessary to keep running for a year. Tracy, Steve and the residents of the village in which they lived were totally unprepared for the thousands who turned up to visit the sanctuary, parking was chaotic, the local pubs ran out of beer though I don't suppose they minded that much! The following years everyone was more prepared, the Annual Open Day became a fixed event, local residents would hold garage sales donating some of the proceeds to the Sanctuary. The highlight of the day was a celebrity aution, The Queen Mother donated gifts of bone china, silver teaspoons and travel rugs. Deborah Kerr donated a pair of gloves she had worn in the film The King and I. Sir Anthony Hopkins usually donated an item of clothing from his latest film. Jasper Carrot, Michael Caine and Richard Whitely have donated signed ties. Linda McCartney used to be a strong supporter and Sir Paul McCartney continued to send items for auction after his wife's death. The local council imposed more and more restrictions on the Sanctuary because one local resident complained, the sanctuary was restricted to keeping only 20 donkeys, they forgot to mention horses, ponies and goats, so Tracy won her case and the restriction only applied to donkeys. However the council would only allow the sanctuary to be open to the public once a year, which meant that no-one could visit on any day except the Open Day, not exactly the welcome you want to extend to people you are hoping will help to support the donkeys. Although the council banned members of the public from visiting the sanctuary other than on the Open Day each year, they had no hesitation in asking Tracy to receive coaches of physically and mentally disabled children to visit and feed the donkeys, Tracy never refused such a request. However, Tracy and Steve decided they had had enough of the council's restrictions, also the sanctuary was too small for the ever increasing numbers of donkeys, mule, horse, ponies, goats and two cats. Within months they had sold their home and found a practically derelict farmhouse with 28 acres of lush green pasture which had not been touched for years. The move was traumatic for everyone Tracy & Steve had to say goodbye to all their friends, they had lived in Radcliffe for ten years; the animals were transported in a large cattle truck and several trailers belonging to friends, the two goats travelled in the back of a friends van bedded down with hay, they were very comfortable, but six months later you could still smell goats in the back of this van! The only problem was Senna the ex-racehorse who had been used to going in and out of trailers all his life, it took more than half an hour to get him in. Looking back at the video it can be seen why. Senna is devoted to his donkeys, each night he stands at the gate to make sure they have all come in, if one is missing he wont come in himself. While the donkeys were being loaded into the cattle truck and trailers Senna was watching from his stable and thought they were being taken away from him, when he was led into a different trailer with one pony he didn't want to be parted from his donkeys so he refused to get in. At one point Tracy thought she was going to have to saddle him up and ride him to the new sanctuary! All the animals arrived safely at the new sanctuary and were let out to graze, they settled in immediately and looked as though this had always been their home. The new farm had outbuildings which were turned into stables for winter housing for all the livestock, then with winter looming Tracy & Steve had the task of making the derelict farmhouse habitable which was quite a task. The local council agreed that the sanctuary could be opened to the public as a mini attraction. The plans for 15 brick built stables, a new roadway through to the visitors car park and a toilet block were approved within two weeks. Work commenced immediately (it actually never stops!) The only drawback is funding when this runs out building work stops. Which is why we are so grateful to everyone who helps to fundraise to keep the sanctuary going. Now the donkeys have more space they seem to have less ailments, or maybe its the sea air, we are near the coast, but this has saved money with less vets bills. We have been able to produce our own hay and the local farmer cut and baled it in return for part of the crop this was another saving. Since the move the sanctuary has taken in two dreadfully neglected ponies, one called Carmen is still alive but unfortunately the other one called Billy after weeks of intensive treatment had to be put to sleep. Another horse arrived with severe mental problems, she is a beautiful mare called Montana but what has happened to her no one knows, but she is very highly strung and can turn aggressive without reason, she has a paddock to herself surrounded by other animals but segregated for the safety of the others, they can socialise but move away when she goes to bite them. The work of the sanctuary continues despite not being able to hold an Open Day yet; the work has to be completed to the councils satisfaction, (we have to provide toilets and a suitable car park) but we are almost finished. Tracy and Steve reflect on the good times they had at the first sanctuary at Radcliffe but realise that the move to larger premises is something they should have done years ago, they have settled into the local community and the local people quite enjoy watching the donkeys in the fields, and were highly amused when Gilbutt the goat escaped and pruned the neighbours garden! Tracy remembers the years before the sanctuary when she had new clothes, holidays and plenty of free time - but she would not go back, what she has now is complete fulfilment.

 

 

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