The Donkey Sanctuary was founded in 1969 by Elisabeth Svendsen. It was registered as a charity in 1973.The Donkey Sanctuary was founded in 1969 by Elisabeth Svendsen. It was registered as a charity in 1973.
Svendsen was prompted to start the sanctuary following a visit to Exeter Market when she saw seven small donkeys crammed into a small pen. After she tried unsuccessfully to buy the donkey in the worst condition, she decided that instead of breeding donkeys she would try and save them.
By 1973 Svendsen was caring for 38 donkeys. In June 1974, she received a phone call from a solicitor who was the Executor of the Estate of the late Miss Violet Philpin who had been running the Helping Hand Animal Welfare League Donkey Sanctuary near Reading, Berkshire. The solicitor explained that Svendsen had been left a legacy of 204 donkeys. At that time advertisements were appearing regularly in UK publications appealing for financial support for Violet Philpin’s Donkey Sanctuary to the extent that the name Violet Philpin became very familiar in Britain with the care and welfare of donkeys.
After the UK Charity Commission allowed the two charities to merge, the Donkey Sanctuary purchased Slade House Farm near Sidmouth in south Devon. Since then more than 14,500 have passed through the Donkey Sanctuary's gates in the UK and Ireland. The charity operates in UK, Ireland and mainland Europe. It also conducts international operations in Africa and Asia. In 1980 Svendsen was made an MBE for her services to animal welfare.
In 2010, the charity faced re-homing problems as a result of the recession. It made an appeal for people to volunteer to provide foster homes for its donkeys.
The Donkey Sanctuary is managed by seven trustees who are responsible for the charity, its assets and activities. In 2011, the Donkey Sanctuary founder Elisabeth Svendsen died aged 81.