In writing about Jack and Jill, my two rescued donkeys, there were times that in looking backwards, became very poignant moments. I adopted these two neglected, abused animals because I could do this for them. Never did I think that THEY would be MY teacher of some very important life lessons!
One such lesson was in learning to cope with my disappointment and bitterness in NOT being physically able to show my own dogs any longer. Knowing I would no longer be traveling every weekend to dog shows, I knew I would be home to vest in these two new animals. For those that have never shown their own dogs, my loss didn’t seem that great. Afterall, I can still pay a professional to handle my dogs which I now do to have them shown. Many have always hired professional handlers to show their dogs. Had I not had to stop due to physical limitations, I might never have had the chance to experience what it means to be owned by my donkeys? And although I am extremely vested in my beautiful breed, I would be a lesser person to NOT have my donkey experiences!
Another special moment came when I met a young “cowboy” who helped me train the donkeys especially Jack. He didn’t help me “train them” as much as he helped “train me” especially in how to read their body language. And how to be at ease with these animals by learning how to stop them when they were running straight for me! Learning how to move them when I wanted them to move and most of all… learning how to be safe with large, prey animals!
Every week he would come out for a “lesson” and then stay for dinner. Being fairly traditional, our family always ate dinner together as a family. And when my children moved away from home, “Sunday dinners” was a special time where we could all come together to catch up with each others lives. Later, I was told that I was “boring” and that my daughter did NOT want to “come home” for “Sunday dinners” (or any other day for that matter!) I doubted myself as being a “good mom” believing my daughter when she said mean things about me. And yet, here was a young man about the same age as my daughter who wanted nothing more than a “family night”. For more than a year and half, this young man came every week to help me help my donkeys and taught me to believe in myself again. And this connection; this relationship… all due to my two donkeys that I was trying to learn how to take care of and train them.
When I first started having “worse than normal” problems with my daughter, I confided in, of all people, my hairdresser. Being young, without children of his own, he told me I must have been a terrible parent for my daughter to behave the way she had! Speechless and humiliated, I stuttered I was NOT a “bad mother”! Look at my son! He is an incredibly thoughtful, caring person! And then came this “cowboy”. One hot summer night after we had “trained” the donkeys and over a beer, he asked me how would he know if he was “in love”? He had confided to me his relationship with his girlfriend and wanted my opinion. He told me he couldn’t talk to his mother about “these things”; that his mother was just not emotionally available for him. I tried to answer him but mostly I listened. Listened to his thoughts, concerns, dreams and aspirations… all of the things I had done for both of my children throughout the years. Here was this very strong, capable man coming to ME for advice and support! Someone HE valued! A person I would never have had the chance to meet had it not been for my two donkeys!
But most of all there was Jack, my donkey. Jack… neglected and abused by people who were supposed to care for him. People who did terrible things to him physically and emotionally! And here was Jack who will do anything I ask him to do! Even in situations that might cause him to be alarmed, he will follow my simple cues to do as I ask him to do. He trusts me! How can such an intelligent animal trust “people” after the horrific events he has endured? I don’t know how he does this but he does!
When Jack first came to us, he did not bray. Braying is used as a greeting amongst donkeys and Jack basically just glared at us when we approached him. Not deterred, I sat with him usually singing in my terrible off-key voice for I thought he was the most beautiful animal I had ever seen! Truthfully, Jill is beautiful. She is spotted with white and gray symmetrical markings. Most certainly, Jill was sought after. Jack was just a companion for Jill. Jack is a plain, grey donkey. He is oversized for a miniature donkey and small for a standard donkey. He is a “tweener” not quite fitting into either description. And he was and still can be theatric!
Once, I invited a neighbor of mine, who also has donkeys, over for my “donkey lesson” and then to stay for a barbecued dinner. The “lesson” that night was to see IF I could have Jack take direction from me with my being behind him? Being behind a donkey or horse is NOT a comfortable position for any equine. They have a blind spot directly behind them; they can’t see a person in that position so they will swing around so they can see the person; to be able to ascertain the person’s intentions. I had already been able to give Jack “direction” from behind him which is the beginning of training Jack how to drive a cart. “Driving” means for the donkey to be able to take directions from a person behind them when tacked up to a cart they will later pull.
As the lesson progressed, being “moved” made Jack very nervous. Being the drama queen that he is, he would back or side-kick spinning around to always make sure the cowboy was NOT behind him! Now IF Jack actually intended “contact”, he would not have missed! He was just letting us know he didn’t like this lesson and/or was just confused about what we were trying to “teach” him? My neighbor, seeing Jack’s behavior, immediately told me I needed to have Jack “put down”! That Jack was not a “safe” animal! I was angry and upset to hear this from a professed donkey-lover! Someone who took Jack’s communication as a threat! Could she not HEAR what he was trying to say or how he felt? Needless to say, I never invited her over again!
Long story short and more due to my physical limitations than Jack’s ability, Jack is now progressing rapidly in how to “take direction with my being behind him”! We are learning together to read each other and take each other’s feelings/comfort level into consideration. And Jack is learning to drive a cart! He LOVES our lessons and interactions. The things that used to make me nervous; Jack is teaching me those things are now “okay” things I can do with him. Putting on Jack’s halter, he will thrust his head into the halter knowing exactly what it means to be “tacked up”. He KNOWS we will be practicing and he is excited! And my initial concern over touching his butt… He lets me scratch his butt now when I put on his full harness that wraps around his tail! He has no problem with this at all!
Jack still likes to “kick up his heels” especially at my farrier. My farrier just laughs at him. My farrier calls him a “drama queen”! Jack is just expressing how he feels but when it comes time to stand still and have his hooves trimmed and filed, he is a model donkey! Especially if I’m in front giving him treats for “good behavior”!
And braying… Jack has a hearty bray! He brays when he sees me in the backyard calling me to come play with him. His ears pricked forward listening for the approach of my footsteps. Jack comes when I call him much like a dog might come when called. He can be acres away and he will come running! This no longer scares me as there is a “rule” on how he is allowed to approach me; the 90/10 rule. Jack is allowed to approach me 90% but then must stop. Then I approach him the last 10%. This keeps us both safe from any sudden moves.
To watch Jack blossom from the animal he once was to the animal he is now… Warms my heart! Not because he “trusts me” but because he trusts people in general now. While he did NOT have a terribly great upbringing or impression of people initially, he has put his past behind him and is now living life in the moment. And he is happy. I look at his resilience coming from a bad situation and think… If this silly donkey can be so happy now, surely I can be happy again too! It is through Jack’s eyes I see myself and my life… And I dream of all the things I hope Jack and I can do together in the future!