Tara and Easter

Tara and Easter
"Aw, mom"

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Singing Donkey

We have many animals here on our farm.  The only animals we sell are the cattle, but we also have three horses, a pony, and a donkey, as well as three weed eating sheep, and some poultry.  All in all, a working farm.  The donkey, however, is the one that has grabbed the attention of the fickle public, at least for the moment.  I should begin with where he came from.

(Skip to the bottom to see the video first).

It was October 2003.  I was a naval officer stationed on a ship and we had just returned from deployment to the war in Iraq.  I had just bought a small farm and finally brought home my two horses after boarding them for many years.  The first horse was a mare that I rescued from an abusive situation when I was only a child.  Ellie, a beautiful buckskin Quarter Horse, was almost 34 years old and the time to say goodbye was drawing near.  How happy I was that she waited for me to return from the war!  I was afraid when I left that I would never see her again.  Each day was a gift.  She was hobbling around on her swollen bony knee, (found out later that the aggressive growth was osteosarcoma).  Her pain was managed, but she was depressed.  My second horse, a kind Quarter Horse gelding named Phoenix, would be alone soon.  I wondered if I should find him a companion.

The feed store had an advertisement up with a variety of animals offered including: goats, donkeys, horses, and some exotics.  It seemed to be worth a shot to find companionship for Phoenix.  Perhaps a goat would fit in nicely and Phoenix wouldn't have to be alone on my small farm when Ellie's time came. 

As I drove down the secluded driveway, a stark, dirt pasture came into view.  There was debris strewn throughout the place and buildings in disrepair.  Over 20 horses, two camels and four donkeys foraged through the empty pasture nosing around through piles of manure for a brave little blade of grass.  They were thin, but not yet weakened.  Manure was everywhere.  No sign of any type of cleaning implements or composting piles.  They were all standing in filth and mud.  The next pen that came into view held reindeer.  They looked to be in decent shape.  I composed myself and approached a middle aged woman with an unkempt look.  She explained away all I had seen.  I kept my composure and asked which animals were for sale.  She led me back to a small, dirt, pen that I had not seen before.  Two emaciated pony colts came up.  Their coats were rough and their feet were way too long.  In the corner of the pen, not moving, was a ragged brown creature.  I gasped quietly.  "Is that a donkey?", I asked.  She looked nervous and began spouting excuses.  I couldn't listen.  The creature's eyes were dull, his ears drooped forward, and he looked as if all hope had left him.  His shaggy, patchy coat was brown and there sores visible all over his legs, muzzle and naked ears.  Flies were feeding on the open sores.  His feet had never been touched and through his shaggy coat, his shoulder and hip bones were clearly visible.  His ribs were visible as well, though his wormy potbelly gave his abdomen a false fullness.   Some of her words filtered through the horror I felt.  "Four and a half months old...born here...I weaned him at two and a half months...petting zoo...used to follow me around, but now he just stands there so sweetly...".  My mind formulated a plan.  I turned to the woman with an innocent smile and asked, "How much for the donkey?".  His bail was $350.  I asked for a receipt.  I ensured the date of the sale, his description, the price and her name and address was on the piece of paper she handed me.  I returned with my trailer.  The little guy was in the same position as when I left.  I knew that my $350 dollars might simply buy him death on my peaceful farm instead of in filth and want.  He would not move, so I picked him up.  He was lighter than a feed bag, but I guessed about nine hands tall.  I placed him in the back of my stock trailer.  He looked so tiny and fragile.  I was thankful that the ride would be short.

I had already called the vet and asked for an emergency farm visit.  I had also prepared a 10'X10' pen where the freshest grass grew.  Water, feed, and hay stood at the ready.  The little guy still drooped his head and and there was no life in his eyes when I placed him in his pen.

Then, the unexpected happened.  My old mare, Ellie, nearly ran to the fence when she saw the baby donkey.  Her eyes showed a fire I hadn't seen in awhile.  She nickered to him sweetly and maintained a vigil while the vet examined him.  The vet was horrified.  She drew up several doses of de-wormer to give over five weeks; if he lasted that long.  She checked his sores, gave feeding recommendations and, after glancing at my pleading mare, told me that he would be better off with her, if she was gentle enough with him and I didn't mind the risk of allowing him into the herd immediately.  He was measured at nine hands, three inches and weighed 60 pounds!  He should have weighed twice that.

After a good scrubbing bath, (in which he gave me one small snort of protest), drying him carefully, dressing his wounds and hand-feeding him some grain, (he chewed each piece of grain painstakingly slow), he was turned into the pasture with his adopted mother.  Ellie fussed over him.  I prepared a deep bed in their stall and filled their manger with hay.  Ellie was on free choice senior feed/grain mix in a bucket big enough for both of them.  I counted on his donkey sense to not overeat the grain, and watching him carefully over the next few days, this seemed to work.  He walked a bit that night and then laid down with his horse momma watching over him.

The next morning, the baby had shavings all over him and he discovered what grass was.  Watching his momma, he reached down and bit.  You could see the surprise and delight in his eyes when he realized that the green stuff that tickled his fetlocks was actually edible!  Yes, his eyes were alive again and I knew he had a chance.

The farrier came that day and opened up some abscesses in his tiny hooves.  He walked better after the trimming, but it took a week before he trotted and two weeks before he ran.  Within a month, his ears stood up straight.  He was finally deemed strong enough for vaccination the following month.  He was gelded at seven and a half months as he had a hernia that also needed repair.  After recovering, he was at an age where he preferred Phoenix's company.  They were fast becoming great playmates.  Ellie's pain became too intense to be controlled properly and she was put down in early January.  Her donkey picked up some of her mannerisms and personality, so she lives on in him.

I took copies of the vet and farrier evaluations, (dated the same day and day after, respectively), his bill of sale, and pictures to Animal Control.  As it turns out, the woman's farm, where I bought the donkey, was not visible from the road, so they needed the evidence I had in order to get onto her property.  

Here he is that first day:

One month after rescue, with mama Ellie:

Today, the sad, little donkey has outgrown everyone's expectations.  At first, I thought he was going to be a little donkey, so I named him Milton Burro.  Once he was a yearling, it became obvious that he was going to be a large donkey, so I changed his name to Donkeyotee, (pronounced Don Quixote).  He is over 13 hands tall and has a thicker coat than most donkeys and no lasting scars from his ordeal.  He loves to be hugged and he can carry his pack saddle like a gentleman.  I have started his saddle training as well.  He is very personable, but thanks to the manners taught to him by my old mare and his buddy, Phoenix, he is mannerly and easy to handle.  The only thing he hates are his shots.  

 Donkeyotee today:

He and Phoenix are still best friends and their paddock always has a variety of toys to play with:

Donkeyotee also taught himself several ways to garner attention, including his "monkeyface".

A few weeks ago, I was goofing off outside with my viola and the donkey brayed to me from across the yard.  Knowing what a character he is, I set up a video camera and played for him.  The result is a video that struck some sort of chord with people and it has gone viral:


So, now, at 8 years old, Donkeyotee is getting more attention than I ever thought possible.  As a beginning violin student, I thought I was just going to embarrass myself in front of family and friends.  I had no idea how many people would actually watch this video.  Its all worth it, however, because of Donkey's story.  


  1. What a wonderful story! I'm going to read it to my girls. Thank you for your service in Iraq and for your service here. I saw your story on the Weather Channel and it led me to here. And you keep up the violin!

  2. I also saw your story on the news and it was very touching. I grew up on a farm and now live in the city and thank people of your nature. Thank you for saving his life. Also thank you for your service.

  3. Thank you very much. Thank you for your service as well. My first ship was an amphib so I have a lot of respect for the USMC.

  4. Just wanted to acknowledge your compassion and care- you are truly an exceptional human. Thanks for sharing your new found musical endeavor and singing partner. :-)

  5. I only saw the video of you the "duet" on our local news and am so happy that I also found this story. What a beautiful story of love!!! Thank you for rescuing Donkeyotee! You were clearly meant for each other!

  6. I saw this on the news today here in Memphis. Actually made me laugh. So special, I had to find it and watch it again. LUV IT...!!!

  7. Thank you for your service to our country and to animals in need.

  8. I found your site through Equine Ink...yours and Donkeyotee's story made me tear up. I am so glad you found him and that he is safe and happy! He is a handsome fellow.

  9. The story of Donkeyotee is very moving. I found your blog through the YouTube video of Donkeyotee and the violin. Inspiring! I want to get my five month old foal Morris singing like this, and I have a friend with a violin, so who knows... Donkey opera?


    Please visit my blog and exchange links. I have four donkeys and I live in Spain.

  10. LOL! Four donkeys sounds like a handful. Are they as large as Donkeyotee? I will look at your blog. Thank you.

  11. I also found your story through facebook, and it's very touching and well conveyed. I worked at a donkey sanctuary in Canada for 3 summers, and I loved it - they're truly wonderful animals. Best of luck with Donkeyotee (fabulous name, btw!) and your others charges :)

  12. PS I'm the author of a horse-related novel, and I'd be happy to send you a complimentary Kindle copy (if you don't have a Kindle you can download the software for free for most devices). If you want to check it out first you can find a description here:

    All I need is an email address to send it to :)

    1. I don't have a Kindle, but I love to read. What is the name of your book? I'll look it up on Amazon.

  13. It's called Blaze of Glory (by m. garzon, in case that's not obvious, lol). If you don't have a Kindle you can download the software for your computer for free. That's what I do. I'd really be more than happy to send you the Kindle version, as the smallest of thank-yous for your kind rescue of Donkeyotee :)

    You can reach me here: mgarzon@mgarzon.ca if you decide you'd like a copy. There's even a brief mention of a donkey, but unfortunately most of that story got edited out.

  14. It sounds really good. I am not a Kindle fan but I appreciate your very kind offer. I'll just buy the book. Thanks for telling me about it. With a small toddler at home and not much time to ride, a good horse book now and then keeps me sane. ;)

  15. OK then :) I wish I could send you a hard-copy book but I live in Canada and our postage is crazy expensive. I'm a single mom of two young kids also, so I know what you mean about the sanity!

  16. It's heart wrenching to know there are many people out there that neglect and\or abuse their animals. At the same time it's reassuring to also know that there are folks out there like you who are willing to go above and beyond to do something about it! Thank you!

  17. Thank you. If we all just do a little, perhaps we can be the balance.

  18. Thank goodness for kind hearted folks like you! I believe things happen for a reason and obviously you were so meant to find Donkeyotee <3

    I have several cats and would definitely have more animals were it possible. I think everyone should experience the unconditional love of a beloved pet. Though many don't deserve it! Certainly not the woman who had Donkeyotee :(

    I hope the "woman" who abused him (and likely many other animals on her property) got/gets her fair share of Karma and then some! Some people are just not meant to have animals (or children).

  19. Thank you for your kind words. Like many hoarders, I don't know if there is a cure, but I do know that the local AC keeps a close eye on her. Even the USDA is involved with the animals she keeps because she likes exotics as well.

  20. What a beautiful story and what a kind heart you have to bring Donkeyote to your home!

  21. Thank you very much. He is a lot of fun.