Whoever touched Catalunya last left an indelible impression.
My Webster’s Nineteenth century Edition says: “Indelible: Not to be blotted out, incapable of being lost or forgotten.” A donkey can retain memories for up to 25 years. Catalunya clearly holds the memory of his last touch as one he does not plan to repeat. Either that, or he has lived without human touch for such a long time that his memory is a little rusty.
Burroman, a donkey rescuer I watched on YouTube, said “People point to a trailer of horses going down the road and admire their beauty. But, when they see a trailer of donkeys, they laugh at them and mock their braying.
Donkeys, to the untrained eye, are thought of as foolish and stubborn. Taking their time to suss out a situation makes those asking compliance feel purposely defied. Standing in place; rifling through their Rolodex of memories, gathering clues, and searching for anomalies, can be read as willful resolve against you.
But to those who have eyes to see; they are wise, skeptical survivalists. The jacks are temperamental and their self-preservation skills (as long as you keep your dogs and baby livestock away) make them inadvertently good guard animals.
Donkeys learn at the same rate as dogs and dolphins. Unlike horses, they lack enough oil in their skin to be able to manage wet coats in the cold without consequence. Unlike horses, they evolved to choose fight over flight. They back up a few steps, reassess, then go in to face the predator. They evolved into brave perimeter guardians for the jennets and foals. But for the semi retired hairdresser/musician and stonemason/musician turned farm dwellers, he is a dangerous animal
He had not been around all day. He really prefers the equine or the bovine to the canine and the hominine. His inconvenient, unwanted, and exasperating behavior explains why the subgenus; asinine, is used to describe people whose behavior mirrors that of Catalunya.
Finally I saw his oak bark colored rhino hips in the woods beyond the burn barrel. Then, a glimpse of the white heart-shaped face of a Hereford bull. Then, the bony rear of a black cow. I called the rancher who owned them. He was already driving the fence line. I apologized for the behavior of whoever’s donkey had adopted us.
The rancher and his wife called the cattle, cut the fence, and let the cow and bull through. Alan shook his hand and let him know that we were working on containment. I later realized why the funny look from the couple. I had silver sparkle eye liner on under my cowboy hat, camo overalls, and muck boots. It was New Year’s Eve. A friend came over for a bonfire. My eyeliner a remnant of sequin cocktail dresses of yore.
January 6 Be careful what you wish for.
It had snowed the night before and he had crusts of it in his mane and down his back. A network of roots hung from his right ear. He kept lifting his back hoof digging at it. I’d brought a beach towel in to the barn at that morning’s feeding hoping he’d let me get the snow off. He’d seen me brushing the dogs in an exaggerated manner and I knew that he knew what the towel was for. But, any extension of a hand near him caused him to step back, swish a tail warning, a buck, a stomp, or a double back kick.
It was so cold that Alan decided to crank up the burn barrel. Catalunya had hung out with us there before and warmed his rump next to it. I held the towel up and brushed snow from Alan’s jacket to give him the idea. Catalunya bobbed his head up and down begging for a towelling. I stood with it in both hands making rubbing motions for eternity.
Alan finally went in to make lunch. I picked up a long-handled brush that attaches to the water hose for car washing. I put the towel over it as I’d seen in one of the positive reinforcement method clicker training videos I’ve been watching. The trainer places a sweater over her hand and the animal who’d had a bad association with hands seems fine as long as the hand is hidden under a sweater.
Catalunya picked up the towel in his teeth and began to play tug of war. He liked the feeling of the terry cloth in his gums. His tugs pulled me towards him. His decision. He outweighs me by about 350 pounds. I inched the brush under his chin and gave him a scratch. He did not pull away. He leaned in. Over the course of another half an hour or so, he came into the towel covered brush and I resisted the urge to move it towards him until he bowed his head and waited for me to scratch it with the brush.
He dropped the towel and allowed me to scratch his muzzle, neck, forehead, and ears. I used the edge of the brush to scrape the ice bits from his mane. He made a beautiful involuntary nickering sound of relief. I chuckled a bless it’s heart back. Alan watched through the kitchen window; fist bumping me from a distance.
Catalunya tugged the towel and I scratched for a good half an hour. My feet were getting cold and I decided to walk towards the barn to get some straw as a distraction from the scratching. I needed a break. He began to play run as he’d seen me and Zippy do. Male donkeys engage in aggressive play. Yikes. He is so powerful and I have no true defense against his body mass. I eased back towards the burn barrel and put the brush in more of a weapon position than a scratcher position.
I was relieved to see Alan coming to get me for lunch and we celebrated this profound breakthrough moment. It was so gratifying. But, we were cold and our lunch was waiting.
We headed towards the house with the towel covered brush in hand. He followed us closely then ran at us. He ran in front of us blocking us and screaming at us full blast; nostrils flared ,teeth bared, ears back, hooves spading up bits of dirt. We squared against him and Alan fended him from me with the brush. We literally threw in the towel and tried to soothe him with our voices in one second then yell our disapproval of his behavior the next. We went from “It’s okay, it’s okay to NOOOOO!” fast. He wheeled around the big cedar with the broken limb to line up a back kick and slipped a little on the snow. The dog fence was on the right and we were totally exposed to him on the left. Alan said “RUN”! I accelerated without hesitation up on the porch and Alan had just enough time to get up there and place a board across the threshold as a barrier.
Between crying jags, which Alan described as overly dramatic, I reached out to several donkey rescues. I sent emails to the Connection Training Course community and left tearful frantic voice mails for rescues in Texas and Missouri.
He could’ve killed us. Alan was calm and compassionate. He said, “I guess he thought I was taking you away from him”. “Or, maybe he was afraid that he would never get scratched again?” I added. I remembered a YouTube video of a trainer working with a donkey in England. He noted that the donkey may not want to go into his stall for fear he will have to stay there. Lead him in, reward him, let him out. Donkey line of thinking could be, this is ending… forever.
A few minutes later he clopped up onto the front porch. We were still shaken but this took it to a new level. I was afraid he’d come through the front window. I imagined his leg cut, tendons hanging out, owner showing up, lawsuits. I cried and paced and stalked the window with my stick. After about 5 minutes of crashing through the wood pile; the wicker chairs, and my collection of very pointy antique garden implements who’ve lost their handles, he somehow got back down off of the porch without wounding himself. We quickly moved the metal trash cans full of kindling so that they were blocking the front steps and stuck 2 x 4’s in them as a Game of Thrones style barricade from the onslaught of his oxytocin induced flood of behaviors. Letting go of the memories that had left a mark on him was confusing and scary.
A tattoo may be removed with warm pulses of heat from light. Several sessions may be in order.
The “attack” left a mark on us as well. We began carrying walkie-talkies around when outside the backyard fence. Alan takes out the trash and I push the button and say “he’s coming around the front, hurry”! We no longer go into his barn when he is there. One of us distracts him while the other goes in. We feed and water him over the fence.
The next morning we watched Connection Training videos on the equine brain. The rage system, panic system, and lust system helped us understand these unfamiliar behaviors and how they evolved. I thought of what Shawna (one of the founders of the video training course) said. “Some animals who are not accustomed to touch, once touched, unleash the love bug, so, look out.”
Support and advice came from my Connection Training Facebook group. Still, I re-posted Lost Donkey on Craigslist.
I spoke with the Rescue folks at Pleasant Valley Donkey Rescue’s San Angelo location. I described the attack and how were at our wits end and worried about our safety. I described to her what happens since then when we go outside. He trots up to us on his unicorn like hooves, ears up, bellowing like Chewbacca then turns his back to us.
She explained that his behavior sounded more like “Hey, I’m lonely, please scratch my butt” than an attack. She recommended getting him into a confined area in order to minimize his ability to run at us. “If he gets too close or comes at you with his ears back and head down, bonk him on the forehead with a stick.” “If he’s letting you scratch him, you are doing good.”
I had spoken to their guardian donkey specialist the day before. They don’t even work with the jacks as guardians and most rescue places won’t allow you to adopt if you have a jack.
A few days later the weather broke and the fence fellows come to make a turn out pen and finish the perimeter. They are in their 70’s and can chainsaw trees down to where they don’t get caught in the mower. Ed told Alan a great story about selling his arrowheads to David Allen Coe. He works with long time friend and mule whisperer, Utah. I was worried for them but counting on Utah’s experience to guide us through the day. He told us about hunting on the back of his mule. She’d just duck her head when he pulled the trigger and she could always find the truck. But, a donkey is not a mule and the more I learn about a guardian jack the more nervous I feel.
Catalunya followed Alan and the guys around checking out the fences, happy for their company; no love attacks.
Now when he bellows we run outside, collection of brushes in hand, and give him “scratchies” through the fence. The refrigerator coil cleaning brush is his favorite.
Last night, two giant transport planes from Ft. Chaffee flew low and loud and we heard his upset bray. We ran outside in our pajamas, brushes in hand, another layer of indelible marks removed.