Book review: ‘Sanctuary: The True Story of an Irish Village, a Man Who Lost His Way and the Rescue Donkeys That Led Him Home’ 

Cover of the book, 'Sanctuary'
Sometimes, the rescued become the rescuers. No one knows the truth of this adage better than Patrick Barrett, who found a new path in life with the help of abused donkeys.
By Sally Rosenthal

Sanctuary: The True Story of an Irish Village, a Man Who Lost His Way and the Rescue Donkeys That Led Him Home by Patrick Barrett and Susy Flory. Tyndale Momentum, 2022, softcover, 272 pages, $16.

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When author Patrick Barrett was a small child in a closely knit Irish village, he spent much of his time around the donkeys his parents rescued from neglect and cruelty. The bond between boy and donkey was so strong that he was often welcomed into and treated as part of the herd. As the number of donkeys grew, so did the boy. Eventually, his parents’ efforts led to the establishment of the Donkey Sanctuary of Ireland.

Although Patrick was close to the donkeys during his early years, as he became a teenager he left his animal friends behind for a wild life of nights spent in pubs (which included reckless and, at times, illegal behavior while under the influence) and a trail of bad decisions. Following a drunken traffic accident, Patrick was offered a choice by the judge presiding at his trial: Follow through with an application to join the military or go to prison.

This is how the author found himself in a war zone in Lebanon and, later, Kosovo. His military service was not the turning point the judge had hoped it would be. A series of incidents left the still-cocky soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder and severe anger management issues upon his return to civilian life.

Fueled by alcohol, anger and a sense of self-destruction, the author went from bad to worse despite the many relatives and friends who tried to save him. Feeling too worthless to address his addiction and mental health issues, Patrick, nonetheless, felt a longing for spiritual connection.

An encounter with a nun who directed a counseling program for people like Patrick led to his eventual redemption and recovery. In his mid-30s, the author found himself sober, a happy family man and an addictions counselor in training. With his recovery came a reconnection with the donkeys he loved, bringing him full circle in what is one of the most moving tales about animals and individuals who rescue one another I have read in donkey’s years.

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