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.