For today’s Pet Escapades, I’d like to introduce you to Miss Mary Williamson. The first time I met Mary, she was dressed up as Hannah Montana singing “Hoedown Throwdown” and I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. You see, that was my first day as a camp counselor/wrangler at Camp Chief Ouray in the wide, open spaces of Colorado. We spent that summer teaching horse back riding, leading trail rides, cooking over a fire (and burning many meals), dressing up our horses as unicorns, taking our campers on fairy hunts (yes at camp anything can happen, even fairies & unicorns), holding each other up when it got hard, flirting with cute boys and finally, pretending to be celebrities on the weekends shopping in stores, that even if I won the lottery, would never be able to afford. Needless to say, she has become my green flame (you know the friends that are rare and hard to find but make the best of friends). She now lives and works in New York City, but animals have always been a part of her life. Here is her story:
People are always talking about the importance of rescuing pets. There are so many displaced and unwanted animals in this world that need a loving person to give them a forever home. Usually the image of a family going to a shelter to bring back a new lifelong friend conjures the image of fuzzy kittens or happy pups, but in late 2011, my parents went to an animal shelter and came back with a different kind of friend—one with four hooves, foot long ears, and a very distinct “hee-haw!”
This is the story of Norman, the rescue Donkey.
My family moved to a small “ranchette” in a development of 1970s era homes on about 2 acres in 2005. I was an avid equestrian and an only child, and after my grandfather generously purchased me a fiery pure Polish black Arabian mare, Aida, for my 15th birthday, my dad began taking riding lessons so we would be able to ride together. Something tends to come over a person when they have been bitten by the horse bug, they seem not to be able to stop at just one, and so when my mom bought my dad a 16 year old Quarter Horse we lovingly dubbed “Mr. Bighead,” we realized it was far more cost effective (and FUN!) for our horses to live in our backyard rather than be boarded an hour away from our home in the city. So off we went to the countryside, where Aida contentedly galloped in circles or sunbathed with me in her paddock while my dad and Mr. Bighead took to the trails.
In 2007, Aida tragically passed away of colic. She was young, and it was a horrible shock that hit the whole family hard, and particularly Mr. Bighead. Recognizing he needed a friend, and fast, my mom went to the woman we bought him from and purchased a little 3 year old paint mare named Brooke (we call her Brookie). Greener than the day is long, my dad gave old Mr. Bighead a break from all his riding and saddle broke Brookie himself, much to the horror of my mother and myself, convinced he would fall and need a hip replacement. But sweet Brookie kept an eye on him and learned quickly, and Mr. Bighead, recovering from founder, was content to munch his hay and watch on and have me ride him very briefly on my trips home from college.
In October of 2011, Mr. Bighead joined Aida in the big barn in the sky. Though he was 24, we were all shocked; he had always seemed so sturdy with his big muscular build and mischievous personality. My mother, struck with a second major loss in too short a time frame, could not fathom the idea of taking on another horse, only to be struck with this kind of grief again in the future. They knew Brookie would need a herd member, and discussed boarding her once again and knocking down the barn that now seemed haunted by the specter of heartbreak and loss. But Brookie and my dad were close, and she didn’t want her to lose the level of family attention and time she got from being right in the backyard. She knew she needed the barn to be a happy place again, that whoever came in to be Brookie’s friend needed to be special enough to bring a smile to everyone they met. Then, in the middle of the night in November, she woke up and said to herself, “I want a donkey.”
I would like to interject here to say my family knew absolutely nothing about donkeys. We did not hear about their territorial nature making them dangerous to dogs and cats that may endanger their herd. We did not know that they are particularly prone to laminitis and obesity, and must be fed a lower protein diet than a horse. Everyone hears donkeys are stubborn, but as a horse person used to an animal moving away from pressure if, literally, push comes to shove, it can be a surprising experience the first time you push on a donk and he pushes back (donkeys lean on each other in their herds when they rest, and thus lean IN to pressure instead of away)! My mom had the idea in her head that she wanted a donkey, though, and once she has an idea in motion, it’s like a runaway train. So she packed my dad into the big red truck and drove up to Bennett, Colorado, home of Longhopes Donkey Shelter, where Kathy Dean and her husband have rescued and rehabilitated over 600 donkeys in the past 12 years. Kathy is the key expert on “longears” and those who love them, and was quick to give my parents an education on the differences between horses and donkeys. As they wandered the paddocks approached by eager adoptable donks sniffing for treats, Kathy pointed out a few that she thought would make good partners for Brookie.
Longhopes mostly adopts donkeys in pairs, as they tend to appreciate their own kind, but there is the occasional donkey who prefers horse company or has not developed a very close attachment with another donkey on the property, and those they will allow to be placed on their own. One such donkey was a little red haired gelding nicknamed “Brick” for his coloring. He had been rescued from a feedlot (about to be turned into dog kibble!), and been gelded incorrectly by an inexperienced vet. Because of that, he had developed a bad infection, but Kathy was doing everything she could to save him (he was only 3). Brick came up and stood next to my dad, who casually draped an arm over his shoulder and scratched him. My mom knew, even though he was very sick, that he was our donkey.
Thanks to a clever combination of medication and the loving care of Longhopes, Brick grew strong and was soon able to come join our family. Kathy unloaded him from the trainer and Brookie was intrigued—she had never seen a donkey before! Looking out at the new pair, my mom began to sing an old Irish song beloved by her Uncle Norman, and Brick’s ears perked up. Thus Brick earned the new name Norman and officially became a Williamson!
Norman is not a very talkative donkey, tending to reserve his voice to alert to things he is not familiar with or if he gets himself into a pickle. But just because he is not vocal does NOT mean he is not full of personality! Another fun fact about donkeys—they LOVE toys! Norman has found joy in his orange traffic cone, his big black bucket, and his jolly ball, but also gets creative with gates, rakes, power tools, and the barn gutter, which my dad came home to find completely pulled off the side of our barn one afternoon. My mom wanted a companion for Brookie who would bring smiles back to the barn, but this special boy not only has the barn overflowing with giggles at his crazy antics (he likes to run sideways like a crab and chase my dad when he rides Brookie), but has developed him quite the fan base. The neighbors all crack up at the way Norman and Brookie play, and one neighbor’s little granddaughter always makes a point to toddle over and say hello. Back in New York City, where I work for a television network, Norman has such a big following that there has been talk of getting him an animal agent and casting him in commercials! People are always surprised by the uniqueness of a pet donkey, but it’s Norman’s stellar good looks and hysterical personality that keep them coming back for more. My boyfriend, who will make his first trip to Colorado in the Spring, has said to me “Norman is the only animal I have never met but I know I am completely in love with.” Talk about bringing joy!
And what does Brookie think of her Donkey friend? Well late last year my mom reached out to famed animal psychic Sonya Fitzpatrick. Norman himself had quite a lot to say, noting that my mother likes to come down in her “night clothes” and that she “really seems to like pink” (poor Norman got a lot of Aida’s hand me downs, and as the horse of a 15 year old girl, suffice it to say they were all in varying shades of Barbie). Once he had said his peace, Brookie stepped in to say she knew she was getting a donkey friend, but never imagined “he would be such a handsome donkey.” Then Mr. Bighead interrupted to say he was happy and hanging around watching out for everyone (as for Aida, we suspect she sticks by me), and the last cobwebs of grief hanging over the barn were finally cast away.
And that, my friends, is an example of a true wonder donkey. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Mary. I can just picture Norman pulling the gutter off the barn! How funny! To Norman, I wish you the best of luck in your future commercial endeavors;) Well, that’s all for today folks, and if you would like to be the next featured blogger, don’t hesitate to send me your story and pics. You may even qualify for your choice of a $25 Starbucks or iTunes gift card.