RUSTY the donkey has been working Hayling Beach for, well, donkey’s years.
He’s in big demand over Christmas for nativity plays and during the Easter weekend – and now he has been recognised for all his hard work.
The 17-year-old has been named top individual working donkey in the south by international welfare charity The Donkey Sanctuary.
His owners Tracey and Paul Hunt are delighted.
Tracey said: ‘It’s a bit of fun, a light-hearted thing, but I can’t tell you how proud we are of him.
‘We have another donkey, Ollie, who is very different to Rusty.
‘Donkeys are very much creatures of habit and the two have a strong bond.
‘Ollie won’t do anything without Rusty, but Rusty is happy to pootle off on his own if a child wants to ride on their own.
‘He is brilliant with children and when we take him to parties he stands as still as a statue while they climb all over him and he gives them rides around the garden.
‘He’s brilliant with the kids but cheeky at home.’
The couple, from Hayling, bought Rusty after spotting an advert for him and Ollie in The News.
The elderly couple who ran the traditional donkey rides on Hayling beach could no longer look after them so Tracey and Paul took over and have never looked back.
‘That was four years ago now and we just love it,’ said Tracey.
‘The summer season lasts from April to late September and they are flat out over Christmas which they love because they get bored very easily.
‘We have to keep them stimulated and take them out every day for walks just like a dog.
‘Rusty loves interaction and he’s never fretful or stubborn.’
Rusty has appeared in shows at the Kings Theatre, Southsea, at nativity plays and at Palm Sunday services at churches across Havant.
There are around 1,000 working donkeys in the UK.
The Donkey Sanctuary’s work with owners and has a Code of Practice which sets out maximum weight limits and regular breaks.
To find out more go to thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk.