Something to Bray About

Here on the Key Peninsula where we enjoy horses, cows, pigs, goats and plenty of chickens and ducks inhabiting many small farms of our rural neighborhoods, the donkey’s bray is a rarity.

When one neighbor’s dog comes visiting unannounced with children in pursuit, it’s only a fretful event for free-range fowl. When two horses living across the road open their gate and clip-clop down my driveway and onto a pasture, worried owners hurrying behind have no need of apology.

Animals roam; we all get along. But not always… the day my donkeys wiggled their muzzles through a fence they managed to mangle and raced across two narrow acreage lots to a far neighbor whose weeds looked tastier than mine, I heard “What is this? A ZOO?!” bellowed all the way back to my garden. No. Just a pair of mini-donkeys out for a stroll and a snack.

We’ve been seeing donkeys a lot lately –– on campaign buttons, in political cartoons, on clothing. How did this misunderstood and wonderful animal come to represent a major political party, and be referred to as stubborn and stupid?

In 1828, presidential candidate Andrew Jackson’s opponents called him a jackass. The candidate took this comparison to the steadfast, determined, and independent donkey as a compliment, and it remained an image associated with him throughout his presidency, after which it faded. The donkey as political symbol was revived half a century later during Lincoln’s Republican presidency (the elephant came afterwards). This time the political shorthand Democratic Party symbol stuck, here to stay.

Are donkeys steadfast? Wonderfully so. A happy donkey is as friendly as a faithful dog, as curious as a kitten. Determined? Oh yes. This is why tasty wood fences often resembling rick-rack, are wrapped in wire fencing or have hot wire stapled to the donkey side. Independent? You bet. Donkeys think, and assess situations before reacting. That’s not stubborn –– it’s smart. They are great teachers of patience; cannot be rushed. Timing happens when they are ready. Like any wise animal, they stop-look-listen and then act, trusting what they know.

My long-eared carrot-munchers, Lola and LeRoy, brighten my morning with their calls for company. They are giant puppies who help with chores by eating the handles off tools when I’m not looking. And they bring me peace when snuffling little circles in their evening hay. Donkeys live a long time; there are years of delightful, silly adventures ahead…and lots of new tools.

Chris Fitzgerald is an educator and empathic therapist. Her lifework is in service to animals in need of greater human understanding. She can be reached at cfitzgerald@centurytel.net.

Guest column
Jan Walker, Guest Columnist: On the Inside