The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada: The story behind Canada’s oldest fundraiser

First held in November 2018, the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada is an annual fundraising event with nearly 100 people trekking and racing in memory of a beloved friend or dog.

You might have heard of some of these races, you might know the names on the circuit, but know little about the event itself. The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada.

Planted in a four-acre patch of land in Toronto’s west-end, a couple of dogs and a donkey named Allie are the cause of great interest. Allie became the centre’s mascot four years ago when its founder, Jennifer MacLeod, called in a favour from a girl named Leah Saunders, her handiwork is a memorial garden that commemorates Allie and is overseen by the RSPCA.

“It was the very last date that Allie was ready to go out,” MacLeod said. “We picked up this little donkey, brought her back to the donkey sanctuary where I work and she kind of had this sweetness in her. She was so lovable and I really like the fact that she was so gentle.”

Allie was a lost Iguanodon, a species of donkey which MacLeod describes as “The Forgotten Equine.” In the Coachella Valley in California, a missing donkey, named Geromino, was the centre’s first mascot and to honour his final journey, she hatched the idea for the annual fundraiser.

Her first running derby was in May 2018 and ran in memory of Sway, the old greyhound MacLeod rescued from a pound where he was being abused.

“When we found him, he was one of the skinniest greyhounds we had ever seen,” MacLeod said. “Our flat we had saved him from was, our last runway is right in the middle of the dog pound and it was a loose greyhound where the leash snapped. We needed to get him and he needed to be picked up.

“There’s just so many great stories behind these animals because people are so attached to them that the struggles that they have are not only compensated, they’re even overlooked,” she said. “They’re just used as guinea pigs. They’re used for farm animals and they’re used as house pets and they have all kinds of struggles. But when I was a kid, my brother was a champion show dog and the point of that for me is that I can do anything if I don’t give up.”

MacLeod didn’t give up in this quest either. With the help of fundraisers, like the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada event, she continues her long-standing quest.

“I think I’m really just living life by the way that I live my life. I don’t feel like I’m some kind of a successful person or anything,” she said. “When you start to listen to your heart and you listen to your beliefs and you’re willing to say those things, there’s just no problem. But it’s just my belief system in it.”

And, for MacLeod, it’s Allie who’s here to greet her every day.

“She doesn’t speak at all because she’s deaf but she’s the best lap dog ever. She’s the best dog anyone could ever hope for,” she said. “Allie lives with us all the time. I keep her in the fridge and she sleeps in my lap every night. She’s a part of the family and she’s an ambassador for the animals.”

For more information on the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada, visit their website.

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