My first encounter with a herd of burros took place on a cold, windy winter day
in Washington state. The green, gently rolling hills were covered with cedar,
fir, and hemlock, as well as salal, and the lush foliage extended out thirty
acres on the property owned by their caretaker, Paige. It was donkey heaven.
“They love to eat all of it,” Paige said. “They're vegetarian browsers,
and they'll eat shrubs, grass, sticks, and rotten wood. I can smell the aroma of
fir trees on their breath sometimes when I get close.”
I arrived with a bag full of carrots, and the excited animals pressed forward
against the railing in the barn to get one, leaving the more shy members of the
herd behind. Even the elderly ranch dog loved carrots, posturing to get a few
for himself. However, I did manage to save some for our individual donkey
sessions, as I was sure the animals I would be reading would be shy and
reluctant, most likely needing a bit of coaxing.
Paige is one of a handful of authorities on donkeys. In 1990 she established the
first abuse rescue group for them in Washington state and is very knowledgeable
about the animal’s temperament, health, mistreatment, history, and veterinary
care. She also, luckily, found her perfect assistant in Kay, who had recently
bailed out of the corporate grind to fulfill her passion for animals on a horse
Bored behind a desk, Kay relinquished the hefty salary for an
eight-dollar-an-hour dream job as a ranch hand, where she fell in love not only
with the daily companionship of the animals but also with the ranch manager.
After she and Richard were married, they spotted an ad in a newspaper looking
for a couple who wanted to run a ranch and care for a herd of donkeys. Kay told
me she was deeply moved by Paige’s heart-centered approach to her animals, and
it wasn’t long before she fell in love with the donkeys.
Paige was conscientious about the needs of her beloved herd, both physically and
psychologically. She was most interested in getting more information on the
peculiar behaviors of about half a dozen of these magnificent animals, so she
and Kay brought each of the donkeys she wanted me to communicate with into the
barn one at a time.
Tillie, the donkey Paige was most concerned about, was scheduled to go first. It
took some doing to round her up and herd her into the barn. She was extremely
nervous about being singled out. Not only did I get a profound sense of the
jitters in Tillie, but her eyes also told the truth of her state of mind as they
darted from human to exit door: She was poised to turn around and bolt at any
Tillie wanted to know right away what we wanted with her, so I imagined her
surrounded by a calming green energy and explained that I just wanted to talk.
Pressing against a wall, I turned myself sideways so she could see me better. I
also let her know I would not touch her unless she gave me permission.
Her favorite handler, the kind and gentle Kay, along with her owner and
caretaker, Paige, were also there, which gave Tillie some comfort. She was just
beginning to trust them, and now they were introducing another complete stranger
to her. While reserving judgment about why I was really there, Tillie soon
opened up to me. She had a lot to say.
I'm not sure where I belong. Is this my permanent home? she asked me.
Sending me a feeling of having been moved around a lot, her message was one of
being unwanted. She showed me a picture of being owned by an older man who
continually grumbled about having to take care of an animal he didn’t want,
and of overheard conversations that let her know he wanted to get rid of her.
I felt that this lack of love and care had been her experience more than once. I
also told Paige that with her previous owners, Tillie could not count on being
fed or watered. Meals were intermittent. To make matters worse, the donkey's low
self-esteem was causing the other members of the herd to pick on her. As a
result of moving around, she wasn’t sure whether she could settle in with them
and become a real member of the group.
Paige wanted me to tell Tillie that she didn’t have to perform any particular
service in order to be loved and cared for.
“What does Tillie need to feel more comfortable here?” she asked.
The message came back loud and clear.
“Time,” I said.
On a follow-up phone call two days later, these messages were validated. Paige
told me that Tillie had been rescued from a farm in Ohio where an elderly man
had a large herd. Their only water came from an irrigation ditch, and it wasn’t
The man fed the animals only occasionally.
Tillie had come to Washington with her sister. Kept in a stall for six months
without human contact, she was dirty but wary of grooming or brushing. Although
the woman who had rescued Tillie from the Ohio farm cared about her animals, she
didn’t have much money and couldn’t pay for a farrier to care for the
donkey's feet. With a new marriage and a new baby to attend to, her owner wasn't
home much. Clearly, Tillie wanted some reassurances that she would be staying at
Paige’s ranch, where a donkey could count on being well cared for.
As we stood chatting with Tillie, Paige scratched Tillie’s hind quarters to
relax and soothe her, but after a few minutes the donkey gave a kick, which
threw a sizable rock across the room, making a startling racket as it hit the
metal barn door siding. Paige took a step back from Tillie.
“Okaaaay!” she said. “I won’t scratch you there!”
“I don’t think that was meant as an aggressive move,” I said. “I think
she was trying to get a rock out of her hoof.”
I wanted to double check this later, so the next day I tuned in to Tillie
telepathically from home to ask her about it. As I began to sense Tillie’s
feelings around the event, I felt tickled, as if her leg had been asleep and
Paige’s scratching had sent the blood flow back through it. Paige had her own
interpretation of the event.
“I knew she wasn’t trying to hurt me. Donkeys are very accurate when they
kick, and if she had wanted to hurt me, she would have,” she said.
During the follow-up, Tillie also let me know she had ultra-sensitive hearing,
damaged by firecrackers and gunshots going off near where she had been penned.
My ears are sensitive and that's why I love it when Kay whispers loving words
quietly in my ears, she said.
The next donkey I talked to was Giuseppe, a feisty young jack, a male donkey,
who often initiated rough play with other members of the herd. I asked him how
he got the long, smooth scar on his ear.
Other members of the herd sometimes play rough here, he said, but it's
not serious and no real harm done.
Both Paige and Kay told me that they thought it resulted from playing roughly
with another donkey friend because they bit each other's ears quite often.
One clear feeling came over me as we talked: Giuseppe was wildly crazy about
Kay, who often fed, groomed, and cared for the animals. His countenance melted
into a relaxed swoon when Kay began to stroke his neck and talk to him.
Giuseppe was afraid of ropes and loud noises, and he 'showed' me someone using
him for lasso practice. It looked like they had learned the skill at his
expense, hitting him with the heavy rope in the ears, eyes, snout, and neck
before getting it right. I also felt that while he was being used for practice,
he felt trapped and unable to get away. He appeared tethered to something in the
middle of a ring as a young man rode around him on a horse.
“Having seen this picture, I'd expect him to be more sensitive to ropes around
the head and neck area,” I told the two women. “I'll tell him that will
never happen here. He also wants to make sure you won’t leave him tied up and
go away to do other chores or errands. It seems clear to me that he was left
tied up for long periods of time, and he would like some assurances.”
Paige was happy for me to offers those assurances, and I relayed the message to
the beautiful brown jack. At the time, I had no idea that using donkeys for
lasso practice was so prevalent, but when I talked to Paige a few days later she
told me all about it.
“Horse-riding ropers used Giuseppe to practice roping. They're called either
'headers' or 'heelers,' which means they use the donkeys to practice roping
cows, either their back feet or the head. Most of the donkeys used this way are
crippled for life, especially if they’re laid down and stretched out. You can
easily break the animal’s back,” she told me.
“Why don’t they just use cows?” I asked her.
“I don’t know. It would make a lot more sense,” she said.
Stressed out from being shuffled from place to place, Giuseppe also wanted some
assurances that he would be staying put. He knew he was in a good place and
wanted to know if he could actually settle in with this new herd. Paige,
however, couldn't offer those assurances.
“He belongs to a friend of mine, and I’m just taking care of him. She would
give him to me if I asked her to because she travels and isn’t really able to
pay much attention to him right now. I’m not sure where he'll end up.”
Finally, Giuseppe wanted to know what happened to a young donkey, lighter in
color, that he had grown attached to.
“That one followed Giuseppe everywhere and they were very close,” Kay told
“You can tell him he was only here to get weaned, and then he went back to his
That’s why he kept looking under my body for something. It was milk,
Giuseppe told me with a guffaw.
Paige and Kay had a happy surprise for the love-sick Giuseppe, though. Most
likely he was going to live with his human squeeze, Kay, in the very near
future. Both women were confident his ownership would be relinquished to Kay.
That boy was one infatuated donkey...infatuated with a sweet human who had loved
and cared for him. I guessed he had a preference for blondes like Kay!