Donkey Fever

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“I got a fever! And it can only be cured by…” More donkey! Yep, it’s official. I’m mad about asses!! John is a perhaps a smidge less enthusiastic than I am, but agreed nonetheless! And why not? They’re adorable, strong, good-natured, and best of all for The Coal Burned Spoon’s purposes, make great pack animals!

This burro is packing in supplies for the Colorado Mountain Club’s 1916 Wild Basin Outing. CMC Archives.

We’re excited to announce that we’ll likely be adding somewhere between 4 and 6 donkeys to our Sanctuary come next summer. As John and I researched ways to assist our guests in getting their gear up to their treehouse and cabin units from the check-in building, for those who are unable or choose not to hike in, we looked at ATV’s, electric golf carts, snow cats, mini-trucks, snowmobiles, and just about any all terrain vehicle you can pour gasoline into. In the end, we do plan to have one or two of these buggies on hand for general sanctuary use anyways, but for us, one challenge with all of these options is their noise level and their incongruence with our commitment to the triple bottom line.

Donkey Carrying Goods In The Mountains. Kim Schandorff

Now, don’t get me wrong: over the years we’ve learned there is folly in being a purist when it comes to just about anything – something’s always got to give, and sometimes there will just be no substitute for a torqued-up ATV for twitching out big sticks, or for an electric golf cart for zipping supplies around to units each week efficiently. But we wanted to build in something a bit slower, a bit less dependent on fossil fuels, and a bit more, well, alive, as a daily part of our Sanctuary operations. Packing burros seemed like just the right fit! They love a job, they are very physically affectionate, and they do very well in mountainous and cold climates just so long as they have 3-sided protection from the rain and elements. And although we don’t come from an equine background, the farm background, and in particular the commercial chicken flock experience, has been helpful for understanding things like shelter drainage, rotational paddocks, and manure management. Plus, I’ve been reading like crazy on the side to beef up my donkey know-how!

Lovely pair of spotted asses.

But donkeys are stubborn, right? Wrong! Common ignorant human misconception, we learned. Of course all animals have a fight, flight, or freeze instinct in the face of perceived danger. Because horses, donkey’s distant equine cousins, have the flight reaction, poor donkeys are frequently compared to them. However they are quite different animals! Donkeys fear reaction is freeze, which makes humans think they are being stubborn asses. But in actuality the donkey is simply stopping to protect itself and process something it perceives to be dangerous – when it’s right about the danger, that’s a good thing, and even when it’s wrong about the danger, it’s a lot easier for a handler or rider to deal with a temporarily frozen animal than a flighty one that unexpectedly darts off in the opposite direction!

I think my favorite thing about donkeys is their accessibility. While we’re busy comparing donkeys to horses, I think there is something truly wonderful about the humble burro: Horses are so beautiful, so majestic, so charismatic, so royal, so…unrelatable for most of us. But isn’t there something about those fuzzy faces, those stubby, practical working legs, those blocky features, and those long, floppy ears that’s just a little bit more accessible to us common folk? Hooray for donkeys! I can’t wait for our trip to Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue in Texas this spring to pick ours out.

Look at those ears!! Photo by Jani Bryson.


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