I thought, perhaps, it wouldn't be too difficult to find a young donkey that had at least been vaccinated and had their hooves trimmed once or twice. With exception of the high end miniature donkeys, this was not easy. We started with rescues, but they were out of donkeys in our desired size range. If we lived out west, this would be easier because the Bureau of Land Management auction sites are much more accessible. We searched sale ads regularly and never got further than a phone call with most folks. I discovered an uncomfortable fact about the donkeys in our area. Not only are do they tend to be not current on vaccines, but they have typically never had their hooves trimmed or even worn a halter. What was mostly available were 'guard' type donkeys which, it seems, is a term used as a handy excuse to not provide proper vet and farrier care. There was another group of donkey owners who turned random animals out together as some sort of pasture decoration or to get an agricultural tax break. These donkeys were very similar to the guard variety in that they were neither vaccinated or handled. None of the male donkeys of either type were gelded. None. I was shocked. To make matters worse, almost every female donkey was turned out with intact breeding jacks, or even horse stallions, and assumed to be pregnant. Our search for a donkey was very discouraging.
Finally, I responded to an ad from someone who turned out to be a horse trader, (not always bad, but in this case, not good). My family and I had decided, firmly, that we wanted a jenny. This time, the descriptions of trained donkeys and young donkeys made me hopeful. They offered to bring the donkey to me, but I declined, preferring to see them where they lived. I took the horse trailer, our son, and our eager German Shepherd (for safety). They told me there was a four month old jenny foal that was already weaned. I asked if she was still with her mother and offered to buy them both, if it went well, and sell the mother back after the appropriate weaning time. They said we could work something out. They even had a donkey that was broke to ride. Quite promising.
I passed their place, hoping it wasn't the right address. All I could see from the road were thick woods and big gates with 'No Trespassing' signs. They had good reasons to hide their animals. There was an overcrowded corral with many horses and donkeys clustered around a rather nasty looking round bale. Some of the horses were slicked out and in fairly good condition, but the donkeys looked scraggly. They showed me the jenny with a foal in a makeshift pen. They explained that they had been separated from the herd for several days and the baby wasn't nursing at all. They kept calling the foal a 'she' but it clearly had an appendage. Definitely not a 'she'. I asked if they were sure it was a 'she' and they confirmed it. I just let it go at that point. What was most alarming was how listless the foal was. The seller picked him up and carried him out of the makeshift pen and there was no reaction from either mama donkey or the baby. Something was very wrong. Neither the jenny nor the foal had a name. Perhaps they mixed up the foals or perhaps the jenny's condition was too poor for her to provide milk. Either way, this foal was essentially an orphan and needed help. Maybe it because the baby seemed so weak and I worried about our son being heartbroken if the baby died. Maybe because I hadn't decided if I was ready to throw my heart into a new donkey after losing Donkeyotee only a month prior. For whatever reason, I hesitated, so they offered to show me the 6 year old saddle-broke donkey, which was actually a jack (adding more evidence to my hypothesis that there are no gelded donkeys in our area). This donkey jack was in another pen and was in good condition compared to the other donkeys. He was the wrong sex, based on our criteria, but he had a gentle demeanor. He was 12 hands tall, which is big enough for most small adults to ride over a relatively short distance. They must have bought him from an auction because he still had glue on his back from the auction tag. One of the seller's children got on the donkey and rode him. He was very quiet and gentle. I put our son up on him and knew that we had found our donkey. I agreed to buy him. As they loaded him in our trailer, I kept thinking about that foal in trouble. He was so weak and not at all interested in his surroundings. He didn't put up a fight when the seller picked him up. He wasn't going to make it much longer. I had the cash. Would I be buying heartbreak and a big vet bill? Maybe, but I followed my heart. We had the room and I felt willing to help him. Summer break had just begun, so we had the time. I was out of excuses. The seller picked him up and placed him in the tack room. He laid down and rode that way all the way home. I reported the sellers to their local Animal Control agency early the following week.
I texted my husband and told him what I had found. He teased me gently about leaving with the trailer to get one jenny and somehow coming home with two jacks. Did I have trouble telling their sex, or was it a counting issue? Regardless, he liked the big donkey immediately. With a twinkle in his eye, he marveled at how I had managed to find the most pathetic, needy, baby donkey in the entire region.
They were immediately quarantined on our farm, from our animals, and from each other. The big one, who was certainly capable of wooing our mares, was placed in the round pen with two fences between him and our horses. The baby was put in a stall in the barn. Our family thought up names that evening and finally agreed upon Tobit (Toby) for the baby and Xavier for the big jack.
After making sure Xavier was comfortable, we checked on the baby again. Tobit was in a nice clean stall with deep shavings, fresh water and a choice of fresh grass hay or alfalfa. I put some pellets in a bucket for him to try as well. I did try goat milk replacer, despite the seller's insistence that he was weaned, just in case. I had no luck, but he did nibble at the alfalfa hay. He was frighteningly thin and weak. If I pushed on his back very gently, he gave way. Tobit was dewormed right away, with a mild dewormer. He was so weak that he would only take a few steps at a time. I saw a little poop the next day and he was definitely peeing, but he was still spending a lot of time laying down. When I was satisfied that he was at least eating and drinking, we left him to settle in. Both donkeys called to each other during that first night. It was Wednesday night, June 3rd, and the vet couldn't come out until Friday afternoon. I was worried about the baby donkey.
In this picture, taken that first night, he looks more like a deer fawn than a baby equine. Xavier, meanwhile, is at a healthy weight.
I had a right to be worried. Toby was very sick. His reactions were very slow. It was like a failure to thrive. I noticed he did not poop much at all and I feared he was only eating when we were with him. We spent as much time as we could with him until the vet came on Friday afternoon. We hoped he would be cleared to have a companion. We had a four month old baby goat named Nancy, who really wanted a friend in her paddock with her. If Toby couldn't be in with one of our mares, I hoped he could at least have a goat companion. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with lice. We assumed Xavier had it as well and both were doused with premethrin. The lice were species specific, so Nancy the goat could not get them from Toby (nor could we get them). Both donkeys would need to stay away from the horses and ponies for the next month and we would need to be sure they were clear of lice after three treatments. The vet gave Toby a body score of 2.5 on a scale where 6-7 is normal. He gave him a vitamin B-12 shot to stimulate his appetite and the vet drew blood. Toby was 7 hands 3 inches and weighed about 35 lbs. He should have weighed about 60 lbs.
Nancy did wonders for Toby. He started eating and kept eating. His bloodwork came back the next day and showed that his liver enzymes were very high. That explained the stupor he was in. His poor overtaxed liver was trying to process his food and heal at the same time. The vet suspected he was weaned several weeks before and had no mother to show him what was safe to eat. He was likely fighting toxins from plants he ingested on the wooded area where the seller had kept his donkeys. He ate whatever he could because he was starving. The other possibility was liver damage from internal parasites. We would know more in two weeks when we repeated his bloodwork. There was nothing to be done except supportive care. Either his liver would heal, or he would die. He pooped somewhat normally on Saturday and even better on Sunday. His stupor was so severe on Sunday, however, that I called the vet for reassurance that he did not need to be hospitalized. The vet explained that the stupor was caused by the increase in his intake and should get better as his liver heals and he gets more energy from his diet. He was walking a little more, but babies should run and play. Nancy tried very hard to play with him. By comparison, she was an entirely normal four month old herbivore.
In the meantime, Xavier passed his physical exam nicely that Friday, with the exception of the lice. Since he had no vaccination history, he received all his shots. He was castrated on Friday and we gave him pain control and an anti-inflammatory through the weekend.
Tobit was the 'extra donkey' and I felt funny about his vet bill. We had the money and paid the bill right away, but, ironically, a check came the same day as his vet appointment. It was from Donkeyotee's agent and it more than covered Tobit's vet bill. We hadn't received any checks from Donkey's video for about a year or so. What an irony! Donkeyotee was a rescue, too. It was like he was paying it forward.
By Monday, June 8th, I began to notice little improvements in Toby. He was following me around more and seemed brighter and more interested in his surroundings. His belly looked more full. He still wasn't walking for very long, but it was a little better every day. He had his first halter training session because I wanted to let him graze in the yard a little. I did a very gentle pull and release until his hooves touched the edge of the grass and then I removed the lead rope. He couldn't get anywhere quickly. He figured out how to eat, but it was so odd. He clamped down on the first plant and pulled and pulled until the root came with it. Then, he chewed on the whole plant for quite awhile. He dropped it, eventually. It took several more bites and pulling, before he realized he could just bite off the growing parts of the grass and move on. It must be how he learned to graze during his ordeal.
That evening, Tobit showed me a tiny donkey attitude when I was trying to take his picture. He kept coming toward me whenever I stopped to face him. I finally ran a short distance away from him to get his picture. By then, he had stopped and was pouting a bit because I wouldn't let him come up to me for scratches.
This picture was taken Monday. You can already see an improvement. The first picture shows his little pout. In the second, you can see a more full looking belly.
*Tobit did not make it, despite the best care by us, and by our vet. Xavier, however, is thriving.*