THE tale of a donkey who was saved from the knacker’s yard and conquered the West End could be the key to saving a rescue sanctuary.

A book has been published immortalising the heart-warming story of Pollyanne, who was facing an untimely end until she was rescued and became an unlikely opera star. From a handful of local appearances the lucky donkey was talent-spotted and found herself on the stage of the Royal Opera House alongside the legendary Placido Domingo.

And despite being found in such a neglected state at Salisbury Livestock Market she could barely walk on her overgrown hooves, Pollyanne has now appeared in Carmen, Midsomer Murders and has even had her own photoshoot in Vogue. Now the man who saved her, the founder of the Island Farm Donkey Sanctuary in Brightwell-Cum-Sotwell, near Wallingford, says her story has helped him to keep his rescue centre afloat.

John McLaren said the donations that have followed Pollyanne’s fame and success have allowed him to double the size of the sanctuary, which now holds 103 donkeys.

Over the last 12 months the tough financial climate has seen donations plunge from around £100 a day to just £100 a week.

But with a large advance from a publisher for her biography and all author royalties going to the centre, the future is looking brighter again thanks to Pollyanne.

The job of bringing her journey to life fell to former journalist Sarah Oliver, who is more used to writing about human celebrities such as Twilight star Robert Pattinson.

“This was much more interesting because the money raised is going to benefit the sanctuary,” she said.

“I know they get a big advance and then a proportion of each book sold.

“It will help them a lot, especially with Christmas coming. People are struggling for money at the moment, so the donkey sanctuary has been getting fewer donations.”

She added that her dream was for Pollyanne’s story to eventually be made into a film.

“That would be wonderful,” she said. “And it’s happened before with animal stories, so why not?”

Mr McLaren said he was delighted the book was supporting the sanctuary and gave people a chance to hear about Pollyanne’s journey.

“It’s just an amazing story,” he said. “I think back a few years to when she was in this market with this rough, tough guy who initially refused to sell her to me.

“To see her today is just an amazing change. To see how that donkey has accepted people after how she was treated in the early part of her life is just unbelievable.

“Now she’s wanted everywhere. She stars in her first Christmas nativity soon and then she’ll be in a big ceremony in Gloucester Cathedral next month.”

Kay Weston works for a company called Animal Ambassadors, which specialises in supplying animals for theatre, television and film work, and she sought out Pollyanne after seeing her at an event.

Pollyanne has been published by Little Brown Book Group and costs £6.99. To donate to the sanctuary, call 01491 833938 or visit


The Sanctuary

  • Island Farm Donkey Sanctuary, at Brightwell-cum-Sotwell, has been rescuing and caring for donkeys for 22 years.
  • It also enters donkeys in shows around the country, regularly scooping prizes, and 12 years ago it became a registered charity.
  • The sanctuary’s future was threatened in 2005 when it was told it would have to move as the site it inhabited was to become the new HQ of the Lister Wilder agricultural engineering business.
  • It set up SOS – Save Our Sanctuary – to raise £750,000 to buy a new site.
  • However the sanctuary was saved when the Lister Wilder planning application was withdrawn. In 2010 the sanctuary secured £75,000 in a fundraising drive which went towards building a 140ft-long shelter for 80 donkeys and a visitor centre.
  • The centre runs an adopt-a-donkey scheme. Visit website