Show Marion Thompson an animal in need and she will rescue it. The owner of Tallulah’s Donkey & Horse Sanctuary in Wallasey, Merseyside admits,
“If they need my help, I just have to act…and think about the consequences later.”
This may go some way towards explaining how she now finds herself in sole charge of 27 horses and ponies, 20 donkeys and assorted dogs, cats, chickens, roosters and rabbits.
Marion’s love of animals was first ignited when she helped run donkey rides on New Brighton Beach in the 1970s. Forty years later the rides were long gone and Marion was running a wine bar in Wallasey. In 2010, thinking that it would be nice to revive the tradition, she bought her first six donkeys and began offering rides again.
A year later, a visit to a local equine auction / meat market resulted in the purchase of several horses and 2 badly neglected donkeys. From there, word spread and people starting bringing her all the animals they couldn’t look after. Marion seems happy to care for the young, old, sick and neglected; the ones no one else wants.
Marion runs Tallulah’s on her own, with a small team of dedicated volunteers who help with the everyday chores. She has never asked for donations for the upkeep of the animals and it’s not cheap. There are 18 stables to maintain along with the cost of hay, straw, vet bills, rugs, equipment, land rental, fencing etc.
During the winter, the animals need double the amount of straw and haylage. The sanctuary sits on a former flood plain and the fields do get muddy. Marion is not a fan of mud and is longing for summer already. It’s tough going but she wouldn’t change it for the world. She says, “I love my animals, they’re like part of the family.”
She tells me that her donkeys are extremely well behaved and that it’s the horses who tend to get up to mischief at the Sanctuary. This does not correspond with what I know about donkeys and sure enough, it’s not long before she remembers something.
Back in October, the tractor arrived as usual on a Sunday morning, loaded with hay. The gate is usually opened in such a way that the tractor can get in but the donkeys can’t get out. Somehow, on this particular morning, the gate to the boys’ field was not properly shut. In the blink of an eye, all six donkeys were setting off down the lane and into town.
Everyone in Wallasey knows the donkeys at Tallulah’s and people came out of their houses, still in their dressing gowns, and fed them carrots they were preparing for Sunday lunch. On the donkeys strolled, in single file…right onto the dual carriageway.
Traffic came to a standstill as drivers slowed down to take pictures. Thankfully all ended well. The children who had come out to watch even managed to get a quick ride on the tractor before the donkeys were haltered up and led back to safety, having thoroughly enjoyed their little outing. Marion, on the other hand, was having palpitations and took a while to recover from the shock.
Spending time with donkeys is wonderfully therapeutic and Tallulah’s receives regular visits from vulnerable members of the community, including the elderly, people with mental health issues, children from deprived areas and refugee children, some of whom have never seen a donkey before. They find it really beneficial to help out with grooming and feeding, or just to sit and stroke the donkeys. And, needless to say, the donkeys love the extra attention.
You can visit Tallulah’s any day between 12pm and 4pm. The sanctuary is in Green Lane, less than a 10-minute walk away from Wallasey town centre and the beach. There is no charge (although a bag of carrots is always appreciated).
According to Marion, the best time to visit is from April onwards and in the summer people love to bring their children and grandchildren to meet the donkeys. But if you’re at a loose end during the festive season, the donkeys will be there every day throughout Christmas and the New Year and they would love to see you.
And now is a great time to visit as there are currently five baby donkeys at the sanctuary (resulting from a brief interlude in which Elvis the donkey was unavoidably let loose with some of the jennies – an event he clearly made the most of). Or you could come and say hello to Billie who’s 22 and the oldest donkey at Tallulah’s.
Just remember to close the gate behind you when you leave!
If you are interested in volunteering at Tallulah’s, Marion would love to hear from you. You can get in touch via the Tallulah’s Donkey & Horse Sanctuary facebook page.
Look out for a special feature on Tallulah’s in WN Magazine next year. WN is a brand new, independent, quarterly magazine for the Wallasey and New Brighton area. Launching in Spring 2017, it will include locally focussed News, Events and Places to Visit, Transport, Homes and Home & Garden Improvements, People – past and present, Sports, Local History and lots more. The magazine is already online and you can visit the facebook page here.
Copyright 2016 Amy Swift