Bringing home baby.

FB_IMG_1494450780882 (1)Bringing home baby

I’d imagined how it would be; bringing home baby Abba. I’d pull into the driveway with her in the back, the two former herd mates would run up to her and they’d kiss noses and jump with glee when they saw their old herd mate.

Just Florentina and her buckling seemed too small of a herd for her to feel safe.  So I went back to our friend’s beautiful herd of Nubian, Saanen, and Alpine mix and got Abba.  Florentina and Abba have the same mother.  So, I thought they’d be like sisters.

It’s a four-hour round trip to Eureka Springs but seeing old friends there makes it well worth it and I wanted to get goats from someone I knew. I’d watched our friend Bill King’s Facebook posts of making beautiful cheese from his goats’ milk and I needed his tutelage for this new venture.

The first thing that Abba did when I popped open the hatch was to fix her gaze on Catalunya and begin bleating. He immediately heralded her arrival.

Abba had a rough time getting out of the car.  She was frozen trying to take in the new environment. I imagined her traumatized by the way I’d caught her. Rodeo style. Trap her in the barn, pick her up, put her in the car, and take off.  I hated treating her with such disrespect, but, it seemed that trying to build her trust, then ripping her from the herd would have been worse and I wanted to get through the narrow and windy road (known as The Pig Trail) before dark.

I kept looking to Florentina and Buckminster awaiting the sweet goat reunion moment with baby sissy. Florentina head butted her the instant she finally, reluctantly got out of the car.  And only then she vacated due to Buckminster head butting and humping her before she could get out.  I angrily led the two billy goats gruff to the barn. My frustrated energy upset them more.  The doeling ran around absolutely confused and terrified.  Alan tried to round her up. This required a stop, drop, and roll to the ground under the barbed wire fence. Something we’ve become good at since Catalunya’s arrival.

As I tried to close the clasps on Florentina and Buckminster’s pen, the doeling ran straight into Catalunya’s pen. This required one of us getting into an open pen with him in order to retrieve the baby.  We prayed that he would not kill her. He had not killed Buckminster when the buckling wandered into his pen following Florentina.  But, all of my research told us that it was a real possibility.

We yelled back and forth at one another over the barn walls.  Florentina and Buckminster ran around their pen terrified by our outbursts .  I sat on the floor and prayed “please don’t eat the baby, Cat, please don’t eat the baby.” Alan somehow wrangled her into the barn without a collar or harness. She was loose in the barn. It was around 7:30 and getting dark. It was impossible to catch her again and we were both beyond exhaustion. Catalunya came in looking curious and empathetic.  We made her a little straw pile and placed some water and closed the barn door knowing she’d find a way to get out. We just let the spirit take the wheel and soon after fell into bed.

About 11:30 I heard Catalunya bawl and knew something was wrong with the baby.  Sure enough, when I went outside, there she was in the driveway, vulnerable, staring through the backyard fence into Cat’s pen.  He was watching her.  I opened the gate and sat on the deck in a blanket and waited for her to come in from the driveway. I stayed with her in the backyard until around 1:30 hoping she’d come to me for comfort. She still did not trust me. I cried from exhaustion. I sat down by Catalunya and asked him to please look after her through the night ’cause I was done. I hoped she’d be alive in the morning.  She was.  She probably stayed next to his fence all night. I knew if she was in trouble I’d hear Catalunya’s alarm.

I’d researched fencing for the goats and had been planning to move them around the property with a movable electric fence like the farmers in Mother Earth News magazine do.  I’d watched YouTube videos of a homesteading couple Art and Bri and their hipster homesteading, homeschooling family.  They demonstrate how easily they are setting up the moveable fence for the first time and watching the goats in order to supervise their getting shocked for the first time. They have to be on hand in case one of the goats charges towards the fence and becomes entangled.  One sits ready at the switch.

We pull the wire fence over to the flattest spot we can find and drive the stakes into the god-forsaken rock spawning land. It fell over.  The hippy homesteader kids did it with an infant strapped on one’s back and toddler at the hand of the other. Why can’t we figure this out? Alan figures that it’s because North Carolina topsoil is way more forgiving than what we are working with.

We read the directions.  Again. After a long while of stretching and propping and pounding, it still sagged a little, but, we let the goats in.  Florentina flew straight over the top.  Buckminster finally touched it but it did not shock him.  We tested the thingy.  Sheesh. The electricity was not at the right level.  The opportunity to train the buckling was gone.  We took it down and moved it to another area as the goats ate my lilac bush and tulips. They have 75 acres to free range and they prefer to stay in the front yard, eat all of my flowers and poop on the front porch.  After all of the money we spent on electric wire fencing in twenty acres for Catalunya, none of it will work for goats. We go back to the fence supply piles that have accumulated and I begin to design a goat pen.

The goats are really speeding up Catalunya’s ability to calibrate his actions.  Buckminster tests him constantly by going into his pen, walking up behind him, then running away when Catalunya turns to chase him out. Cat softens his approach around the new doeling.  He chases her away half heartedly and with a softer touch.

Today is my birthday.  I take the goats for a walk around the outside of his pen hoping to guide the integration process. We tromp through the woods and I have to stop, drop, and roll under the barbed wire on occasion as Alan sets more fence posts for the new goat pen.


Begin the Caprine

firstgoatmeetingCatalunya is a good mimic. Having a larger herd structure would help him learn what is expected, how to calibrate his actions, and take some of the pressure off of us. Florentina and Buckminster are my first experience with the caprine. Like the bovine, equine, and hominine, they are herd animals. I figure she feels vulnerable because it’s only her and the kid. Alan and I spend a great deal of time with Catalunya each day creating a calm environment in hopes of diminishing his overpowering and potentially harmful behaviors. It is working. Still; he swung at a fly the other day and his jaw accidentally smashed my finger against the fence and took off part of my nail. Their first meeting was so perfect. Florentina stretched up to him from a bent front knees position, kid behind her, Madonna and child like . He dropped his neck and touched his dromedarian muzzle to her dinosaur bird like nose. He didn’t seem very sure about the baby. The barn was still being readied for the goats so we temporarily housed them in the greenhouse. Kitchen table/bar/and windowsill turned greenhouse contained chard, sunflowers, mustard greens, peppers, Osage orange trees (from the neon green whiffle ball sized seed pod that I’d filched from a park in Ft. Smith back in the days when I protested pipelines), black beans, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, chamomile, stevia, black-eyed peas, and arugula starts. We also moved 6 overwintered citrus trees, rootings of forsythia, crepe myrtle, rose plum, pomegranate, and hydrangea to the deck. The potting soil all over the kitchen floor added to my goat keeping learning curve induced anxiety. The old columbine and foxglove seeds I’d found that Dad had saved for what must’ve been more than a decade were fruitful. A small victory in the chaotic fails to come. Now their pen is finished and they are finally in the barn and it’s time to get organized. Alan made it beautiful and Scandinavian looking like he intrinsically does everything. I call him Ole. His Norwegian, stonemason, grandfather’s name.


Queen of the Hill

When we first got into the barn Florentina’s ribbed horn landed dangerously close to my orbital bone as she and the buckling charged into their newly constructed pen, knocking off my cowboy hat and flattening me into the poop soaked straw. Not gonna work. Time to get the clicker. To this point I’ve only lured her with food or tugged on her leash out of exhaustion. First, remember that they are reflecting whatever vibe I’m giving off. If Florentina is looking about frantically and running headlong into the barn it’s because I am. If Catalunya is squeaking out anxious sounds when I come near, it could be the result of some of my behaviors. My anxiousness and lack of focus hampers their progress. Ugh. I’m tired. I can’t do this.

I drink wine in the garden after dark. I’ve stayed outside till 11 or so most nights with Catalunya. I’ve become accustomed to the dark.

Before the goats came, trainer Dolores Arste of zenhorsemanship.com came for a session and taught me the proper pace for a training session. It is so slow. My mind wanders off. Catalunya has learned to compensate for me I think. We worked on backing up in order to receive a treat and to contribute to safety in the long-term. So, now, he does it without command. I noticed him backing up rather loudly with hoofs hitting the ground with force. I think he is either trying to swat a fly or he is trying to get my attention and bring me back to the session.

Dear Lord. The animals are training me. It’s a wonder they can learn anything from me. Amazingly, they overlook my faults. They are quick to forgive. So many lessons at once. I’m tired. I can’t do this.

In order to for things to work, I have to lead them. That means, I have to know what my plan is before I enter the barn. I get out my whiteboard and write a protocol. Who knew beauty school could come in so handy? I go for the top latch and ask her twice and she stands down. I give her some pellets. I fumble for the second closure and she stands up to sniff my hand, I ask her to get down, she does, she gets pellets. I can’t even find the clicker much less operate it with my hands full. but, she has watched and listened as I train Catalunya in the stall next to her. She catches on quickly. Me, takes a few tries.

The next day Alan and I find Florentina and Buckminster standing on top of the cab of the 79 Ford. We scream and yell and they look at us as if something is wrong with us. “Get down, dammit’!!! We pace around in frustration trying to figure out what to do. I finally decide to try the training. “Florentina, get down sweetie.” I say calmly. I draw a line in the air with my finger from where she is to the ground. “Florentina, down.” She gets down. I run to find her a treat.

Catalunya has watched Florentina reach for tree branches and pull them down in order to reach the leaves. Suddenly, he begins to reach for limbs. He has always had this ability but we’ve never seen him use it. Now, he looks up at a branch that is too high for him. Alan gets out the bamboo pole and brings it down for him like he has seen me do for the goats. He also had been very agreeable to allowing me to put a leash on him. He gives me his ears or his neck, whichever I ask for, and stands for me to put the leash on the named part. Maybe he sees the goats on the leash and this helps.

I keep Buckminster, Florentina’s buckling, on leash with me and Florentina is free but she looks to me for direction in place of what should be herd-mates of her species. Catalunya’s training times have been cut in half and the dogs have been practically non-existent since the goats arrived. I have to refine our systems.

Still, all the time we put in before is helping. Naming his body parts has helped with the gash on his nose. About a month ago, Alan woke up to let the dogs out into the backyard and Catalunya was standing there with a big gash on his nose and the fence between the backyard and his barn pen was torn down. We don’t know what motivated him to break out of his pen and into the yard. We think it may have been a very loud squirrel skittering on the metal barn roof. I soak a terry cloth with watered down betadine and grab the treat bucket and clicker. After a few successful commands I ask him to bring his nose to my hand. He allows me to hold the cloth there for several seconds at a try. After a few days he seems to welcome the care. It must really hurt.

I focus on slowing my pace to a predictable, rhythmic, plod. I realize how frantic, unfocused and chaotic my natural rhythms are compared to those of the barnyard animals.

The next morning I walk from the porch to the barn practicing my movements with the intent of creating a calm, predictable, pace for them. My memory takes me to walking home from the bus stop to the mansion that I lived in while I was in acting school in Manhattan. It was in Tenafly, New Jersey. I lived downstairs and was the maid and babysitter in exchange for free rent.

A semester at the National Shakespeare Conservatory was expensive and my parent’s did not help with college. My walk from the bus stop to the marble floored mansion (complete with a crazy lady who was too cheap to hire a proper maid and her son who looked like the kid from THE OMEN) was a chance to practice what I’d learned in movement class that day.

I practiced leading my body with my chest, leading with my knees, leading with my chin; all important body work for creating characters. I try applying lessons learned in acting school; learning to change my focus, my intention, my pace, to what is needed on the farm. Who knew acting school would come in so handy?

The next day I try walking the corridor between the horseshoe. We are outside the fence. He is in. I pull a branch down for her and she climbs my body and the fence to get to the leaves. The baby props his hooves up on my leg. Catalunya joins us and cranes his neck up and bites some leaves. He bites the left clove of Florentina’s hoof and she doesn’t flinch. He always tries to bite my feet. He has no fingers. It’s like a child putting everything in his mouth in order to explore it.

I’m relieved that he is not aggressive with his new herd mates. Catalunya seems even more handsome now that Florentina has arrived. She went straight up to him, through the fence, and they touched noses. The first day she and Buckminster arrived she called for Catalunya whenever he left the backyard area for his turnout pen. The first time she did it, he ran back to her. Ran. Came running. Never seen him do that for anything. He was clearly concerned for her.

The first few days he preferred to hang next to wherever she was. Catalunya heralds every arrival and departure as well as anytime something is wrong with one of the goats. Buckminster got stuck in a metal 5 gallon pail, one leg caught between the handle and the pail. He screamed and bucked and clunked down the fence line. Catalunya catterwalled, all four legs splayed, tail straight out, and both nostrils rose from his nose as if someone had pinched him in the middle hard enough to displace all of the air from the middle to the ends. He did not let up until the baby was safe. Then he needs a few “ahbrrrrruuuah, brrruuuuah” lip flutters just to collect himself again.

The goats are really speeding up his ability to calibrate his actions. Buckminster tests him constantly by going into his pen, walking up behind him, then running away when Catalunya turns to chase him out. When the goats are out of his line of vision he butts his head against his fence and brays loudly to mark the second he loses sight of them. So, in an effort to hand over my current goat sitting duties to Catalunya, I begin leading the goats around the outer perimeter of his pen on the outside of the fence. Catalunya has had exposure to this from our pre-goat walks. I finally calm down and allow the goats to wander into his pen. He tolerates them. He steps on a skinny tree and pulls it down like Florentina does. The goats hurry over to join in. He holds it down and eats leaves and allows them to stay. The goats need more herd members in order to feel secure and Catalunya needs a donkey herd in order to become his best self. Now I have to learn how to integrate herd members. Lifelong learner. That’s me. Begin the caprine.


Let sleeping donkeys lie


Let sleeping donkeys lie.


My first unprotected contact since the day of “the attack” with Catalunya came on accident.  We saw him in the neighbor’s pasture.  We rode the 4-wheeler over, (which he hated due to the loud noise of it’s engine) cut the fence, and coaxed him through the opening with some hay.  It was pretty easy.  I was unprotected out in the field with him walking behind me.  We eased home without injury.

The next evening Catalunya was checking out the new corral area we were constructing for him just outside of the barn.  Gates open.  We practice letting him walk in and closing one gate and always leaving him an escape route. Around dusk I was filling his water when a coyote ran smack into the fence closed gate of the new corral. Catalunya looked up from his water and I dropped the hose in surprise.  First coyote I’d ever seen.  Our neighbor was surprised and explained how unusual it is to see a coyote in broad daylight, in an area inhabited by a person, a dog, and a donkey.  After a while, I realized that it was running as if it were being chased.  Frantic to escape his stalker, he ran smack into us without realizing we were even there.

That same night he was not in the yard around 8pm when I went to check on him.  I called and worried.

I heard his bray from far away around 3 am.  I sat bolt upright in the bed.  Something was scaring him and he was not home.  Zippy moved to the couch while I put on my coveralls and boots. The four-wheeler was too cold to start so I grabbed my mop handle and flashlight and walked to the fence praying not to be spotted by a wildcat.

I shimmied under the bottom strand of the 5 strand barbed wire fence and walked out into the neighbors pasture hoping I wouldn’t startle anyone into shooting me by wandering a pasture at 3 am.  I listened for the cows or another bray from Catalunya.  Only the sounds of insects and some cooing birds. I trudged back to bed and Zippy slipped back into the covers with me.  Alan was in the guest room sleeping with our pug/dachshund, Brucie.  Our lives molded to their needs.

I heard him again at 6:00 and put my coveralls back on, went to the fence and crawled under.  A tuft of rabbit fur from my trapper hat hung on a barb from my crossing three hours earlier.  I heard the boiling sound and felt the earth vibrate under the herd of cattle headed towards me.  I put my back against the fence in case I needed to crawl back under.  They ran in formation down to the south-west corner of the pasture and I saw Catalunya flanking them.  He didn’t seem concerned for them more just looking out for whatever was chasing them.  I couldn’t tell if they were running from him or from whatever he was hunting.  Either a coyote or whatever frightened the coyote earlier enough to run into an area inhabited by people and a donkey,  a coyote’s number one enemy.

Alan came and cut the fence and it took forever to coax him away from the new grass emerging in the pasture.  He finally came through and we fed him in his newly erected corral pen.  For the first time I closed both gates to his corral with him inside it.

All of the experts I’d spoken to said, “you have got to get him contained”.  After staying up all night trying to catch him while he’s trying to catch a coyote and the neighbor’s cows are being run about, we were desperate to get him contained.

After he ate, he circled around in his pen with both gates closed for the first time. Trying different areas in order to find an escape route.  He quickly found the weak spot and kicked down a poorly secured small section of hogwire fence.  He transformed what was frightening him in his environment (enclosure in a small pen) to what was normal in his environment, (roaming inside the twenty acre fenced area that we’d created since his unexpected arrival).

Alan went and got the wire cutters and bolts and repaired the section we had just put up and Catalunya had quickly torn through. He stalked the property again. No containment.

Later I saw him sleepily lying near the driveway after his long night out and walked towards him with a brush.  Being in the open and unprotected space with him that morning had gone well, so I foolishly thought I’d try to go brush him. He got up and came towards me as if to shew me away.  He lowered his head and made a motion as if to bite my thigh.  I hurried up the stairs and inside.  We’d have to fortify that fence and then that’s it buddy.  In you go, like it or not.

Later that evening we furnished his pen with a fluffy hay pile, some crimped oats and a big ice chest with a missing lid full of warm water. We removed all of his other water buckets so he’d have to go in for water.  Left the gate open.  He finally went in.  We closed the gates.  He bucked and faunched and reared. After a while he became more interested in his cozy digs and decided he’d have a nap in his new room of his very own.


The Shadow Self

Catalunya is an Ethiopian/Abyssinian donkey whose ancestors probably traveled the silk road. His body color is a very dark gray dun with a black nose, black eyeliner and belly. Most donkeys have white noses, eye rings and bellies; known as light points. His makeup is said to be without light points.

No light points indicates 2 recessive genes. It occurred to me that he was different when I watched one of the donkey sanctuary videos. The sanctuary in Cyprus shows a donkey with the color composition of Catalunya’s. They treat him as if he is special and he is left a stallion for breeding more black nosed donkeys.

When we lived in Barcelona, Alan bought a sticker that showed the symbol of Barcelona. It shows a donkey and the Catalán flag. He put it on our Vespa when we returned to Austin. He’d pick me up from work at Nordstrom, put a helmet and ski coveralls over my work clothes and we’d ride home on it pretending we were still driving past La Sagrada or Bar Ramón in San Antoni. The donkey depicted in the sticker is the Catalán donkey. They are taller, have dark brown coats and light points and are threatened with extinction. Their bloodlines are being preserved in Banyoles, Spain and the Catalán region of France.

The Wild Self   Catalunya looks more like a black and gray zebra than a small shaggy horse with a white nose and a stoic personality like most donkeys one encounters. Patricia Barlow-Irick of Mustangcamp.org gentles mustangs and zebras. She says the zebra is 5 times more dangerous and aggressive than a mustang. Catalunya is much more zebra than horse. The horse closest to his personality would definitely be a mustang.

If he does something aggressive and it’s met with aggression from us, it just escalates. He is excited by the aggressive move or vibe.

We quickly realize that coercion not an option. We only have one choice; cooperation. We will have to invest the time in showing him that choosing wanted behaviors enables him to help create the environment he needs. Choosing unwanted behaviors are boring because no stimulation or improvement of his environment is achieved. He will have to go into a stall and stand for the vet and the farrier at some point. We have never even closed a gate with him inside a contained space; only with him outside and free to run inside the fenced twenty acres.

The goal is for him to 1. stand calmly and turn his head out of our space even when food is involved 2. calibrate his movements when he gets excited and remain collected when anticipating something (He rushes into your space and makes wheezing noises of excitement when he anticipates being touched or fed. The wheezing is adorable and the rushing into your space is scary.)

We begin with the 3 second rule. Ignore unwanted behaviors by standing neutral for 3 seconds. Which is usually more like 90 seconds but does yield some results. Of course, I am teaching myself to refrain from responding when he does something that scares me. Through the fence is fine. Practicing the 3 second rule with a top section of the fence removed requires forcing myself to keep my arm in a position that is vulnerable to a bite. It is as difficult for me to hold as it is for him to choose to match my calm energy rather than choosing a defensive bite.

When the student is ready the teacher will come.
Catalunya and I share many challenges.

Trust issues and irrational fears= check. Don’t know who is worse; he or I.
Catalunya: If you touch me there I will die.
Me: If I go outside the fence with you, you will attack me and I will die.

Easily frustrated when learning new things = check

Stubbornness = check. I am Taurus but I think I’ve met my match.

Likes to chart, mark, quantify, perform tasks in sequence = check. We do training at the dog fence around 9:30, gardening while he grazes just outside the garden fence around 1:00, 3:ish is practicing getting used to two gates being closed, 4 ish training through cattle fence. It took about 3 days of consistently closing the gates and opening them for him to refrain from doing a bucking lap around the perimeter and kicking the back of the barn. He finally is okay if we garden twice before cleaning the barn. As long as we don’t clean the barn before gardening.


Catalunya, Daddy and Zippy

In one of the videos of Patricia Barlow-Irick training the zebra, she does the last feed with her left hand rather than her right one day. The zebra throws a fit. She apologizes for changing it up. She trains the mustangs to target to her fingers. I try this with Catalunya. He knows how to touch a target from our clicker training sessions. Now he touches
my fingers and his fear of hands seems to diminish. His biting instinct is quieted as well.

I have instinctively known that Catalunya loves singing (rhythm) and counting (my most effective learning model as well; I cut and apply color to client’s hair in rhythm). Patricia asks people to sing to the mustangs and she counts how many seconds they hold on the target. She prepares the zebra for touching by saying “ready”, she tells them the part she will touch, “touch mane”, “touch withers”. The zebras withers ripple in anticipation. She touches them with a stick and soft ball on the end. I made my own. She counts each touch so they know when it will begin and end. Something I wish I’d known the first time I touched Catalunya. Wild animals want to anticipate the beginning and end of the action. It’s a security issue.

I tried “touch jaw”, “touch neck”, “touch mane” both yesterday and today. Today his mane twitched in anticipation of the touch. I knew he understood the word. I say”reaaaady”, “touch maaaane”, I touch his mane with the target stick. “One, two, three.” I click on three to let him know his behavior was correct, then I say “X” like Patricia does, giving him the bridge signal that food is coming. He does brilliantly and even put two hooves on his mat; another form of targeting getting him ready to stand calmly in one spot for some duration. A big scary wind blows and he leaves the session.

Loner but needs the support of others = check. So many friends have sent me great info and without this I would’ve easily made a potentially bad situation much worse. Input from others helps me along this lonely journey into facing my fears.

Avoids toxic people and things = Che….He is much better at this.  Daffodils are poisonous to donkeys and we have hundreds of them of various heirloom varieties. His favorite hangout? My side garden full of daffodils. He’s eaten all of the marigold; chili pepper stalks, all of the mint, lemon thyme, all of the bark from the lilac bush there; and left the daffodils. When he accidentally pulls one up, he smushes it on a rock spinning it in a circle. I believe the purpose of the behavior is so he can smell that it is something to avoid.

Suspicious of anomalies = check. We moved two lawnmowers out of the barn and left them outside his corral. I saw both his ears on them and his head bobbed up and down. I threw a rock and hit them to let him know that I’ll protect him no matter what. He returned to eating his hay.

Patricia Barlow-Irick, puts it this way ” with equids, everything is either normal or scary. Check.

Catalunya : Daddy’s truck is loud/normal.                                                                                                 Your  blue puffy vest and fur trapper hat is in the garden and not on you/scary.

Me: Facts and experts are important for staying alive/normal.                                                 Alternative facts will keep me safe/scary.

(Donkeys do not enjoy the luxury of alternative facts)

Delusional folks: Expert, schmexpert, who does she think she is/scary

WWW.SHAMANICJOURNEY.COM says, “If a donkey plods into your life, hold on and consider what is challenging you and look for a way to progress safely. Outstanding animal and skillful master teacher. Check!

As they say in Spain, “Poc a poc.”

The Shadow Self


Indelible marks removed


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.



Ten days without touching

On December 19 a stray donkey appeared in the driveway. Our only fencing contained the garden and the backyard for the dogs. Our barn housed sprayers, chippers, mowers, blowers, and tillers.

Day 1

I assessed how long it would take me to remove from the barn the thousands of things that may be harmful to a donkey. Tiny star-shaped bits of rusted chicken wire, bolts, screws, lumber, fencing and the farm equipment. I calculated fence posts.

Five days before Christmas and a donkey arrives. Is this some sort of comment from the universe?  Donkeys symbolize humility and wisdom.That sounds serious. Not sure how many more lessons in humility and wisdom building opportunities I can handle.  Still, we’d been saving for fencing and planning for livestock to complete our closed loop system homestead. Building organic soil takes manure and he’d earn his keep protecting future livestock from predators.

As I moved piles of lumber from the barn floor up to what should be a hayloft, I thought of humility. The song “Radiant beams from they holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord at thy birth”escaped from my body without my control.

We decided on the Catalan spelling of Catalonia (the part of Spain we lived in for a year and a half once) for his name, Catalunya. The symbol of Catalonia is the donkey. He seemed comfortable under the large oak near the potting shed and readying the barn was gonna take time. So, his warm bucket of water was placed under the oak.  It was 18 degrees outside so I placed it inside a tire and smushed blue foam board pieces around it.

Alan brought home Bermuda hay bales and sweet corn that the man at the farmer’s co-op said was good for all livestock. I placed them near the bucket. My donkey research revealed that sweet corn could cause health problems. But, he moved towards us if I shook the bowl and I needed the bribe temporarily as there was no touching him.  I calculated vet bills.

Day 2

I created a cozy manger of straw with a tarp overhang  from lattice that we’d used for bean trellises between his tree and the potting shed on the west side o the property. He allowed us near when he was eating and he loved his water. But if we approached he bucked and turned his rear to us. Bad weather threatened and I was anxious to get him a shelter while we put up fencing and reworked the barn. We’d just have to trust him stay overnight by choice.

Day 3

I moved his water and hay from under his tree to under his new lean-to in order to allow him to get used to a shelter before the arrival of more predicted thunderstorms. Thankfully they’d never materialize in our neck of the woods.

While Alan  went to get a curry comb, salt lick, cattle gate and hoof pick from the hardware store, and talk to the old vet in town, I tried to walk our rottie/birddog mix rescue, Zippy. Catalunya came stomping up the driveway trumpeting bloody murder as if to run us down.  My legs felt weak at the thought of him kicking Zip’s head in. We herded up on the porch with my mop handle in tow.

I’d taken to carrying it on our daily walks. The woman two ranches over had shot and killed a mountain lion in broad daylight and an older gentleman who’d stopped by my farmer’s market booth showed me a photo of five of them moving through his property. He lives near Wildcat Mountain which edges the back end of our 75 acres. The local word for mountain lion is wildcat.

Walking our paths with the dogs, I pretend that my mop handle is a machete and that I am Michonne from THE WALKING DEAD. I whack at small trees for practice at whacking a mountain lion.  But this screaming, unbridled, rogue donkey holding us all hostage in our own backyard was making me feel less safe. Is there some cosmic wisdom I’m missing here? At once safer and less safe.

Day 4

Early in the day we noticed Catalunya pressing his big Shrek butt against the fence in the clearing beyond the well house trying to get next to the cows on the other side. I realized then that he’d obsess on the cows because he was accustomed to being with cows as a watchdog we figured. I’d read that donkeys prefer company and can bond for life with other equine but were often placed to guard cattle, sheep and goats.

After feeling attacked by the rampaging donkey I’d watched him head back over towards the cows sulking and stomping and complaining like a toddler.  I realized the rampage had nothing to do with me.  He couldn’t even see me and Zippy through his blind “the-cows-left-and-now-I-have-nobody ” hissy.  It was as if I wasn’t even standing there. Offering friendship.  With a mop handle in my hand and a dog at my heel.  I began to see why they are so often misunderstood and how they must often misunderstand.

Day 5

Still no petting, no touching, much less bridling and containing. He stretches his neck and nostrils as long as they will go without making contact. I worry all night about what he is stepping on and what he is eating that might kill him as he freely stalks the perimeter of the property.

I risked all of the trust that we’d built by moving his water and food from beneath the oak tree/ lattice corral to beneath the cedar tree (on the east side of the homestead) in the imaginary barn corral. We could no longer put off fencing. We’d dodged the bad weather but more was set for Christmas day.

Five days to ready one side of the barn. I sectioned it off down the middle so we could avoid cleaning another outbuilding and moving the farm machinery again. Luckily it is a large barn. I’d raked the entire corral yard inch by inch, gone over every inch with a magnet on a stick, hauled buckets of sand and spread it down, added a thick carpet of straw in the paddock and stall area and out into the corral and under the big cedar tree. I’d hoped he’d relate to the bucket under the oak. He did.  He’s wicked smart.


Day 6 Christmas

When he looked for but did not find his sweet corn and Bermuda hay in the corral by the oak tree around 7am when we began pulling back curtains looking for him he pouted off.

We’d started on the corral fence from the barn wall to the dog fence at 8 am. Alan pounded the stakes into the ground, stretched the hog-wire with a come-along, and set the gate posts in concrete. Beginning around 10am we’d heard the cows bellowing and gunshots scattering through the  morning. Still no donkey. We’d put down tools and walked to the fence twice worried that he’d killed a calf (after the mailman told the story of pulling his donkey off of a calf that had been mistaken for a coyote) or jumped the wrong rancher’s fence. The winds gusted all day and the weather felt like that scene in The Wizard of Oz just as Dorothy leaves the wooden caravan having had her future told by the future wizard.

In a blizzard he was lost. She ran calling Wildfire, she ran calling Wiiiildfire, she ran calling Wihihihihildfire ran through my head. It was 67 degrees outside.  Still. We had no idea where he goes all day. He was lost. And a storm was coming. Hot and cold air masses colliding. And blizzards on both coasts. And I can’t control what songs come into my head.

Around 4 pm I’d picked up some boutineer sized mistletoe pieces from the imaginary- being- made- manifest corral area. “Merry Christmas, honey.”  I held the mistletoe over our heads and we kissed.  I looked at it again and wondered out loud if it was poisonous for donkeys. Googled it and, of course, it is. I started calculating tree removal.

I tried to nap and not to cry over him being possibly dead. He’d been gone since 7ish that morning.I  imagined that I had loved him to death.  Killed him before we even got started.  Drove him away trying to help him.

I Wikipedia’d paintings of The Nativity. The only one where a donkey appears is in the Botticelli. The others show oxen and lambs. I thought about Mary from Nazareth and Joseph from Bethlehem riding out on the donkey’s back with the baby Jesus fleeing Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents to Egypt just hours after his birth.

It was impossible not to think of the children of Aleppo. Little girls in their pink cardigans. Little boys leaving behind their soccer balls. Fleeing their own Massacre of the Innocents. I can’t even help a donkey without accidentally getting it killed. I’ve done nothing to help those people.

I rose from my non nap to find him following Alan around the garden area, past the chicken coop, and into the warm manger we were making for him. Six days without touching but he can obviously figure out anything.  I ordered a clicker training course. Now if we can figure out anything.

Day 7

Alan saw him lying down.

Day 10

The past four days I have recovered 57 iron fence stakes, 18 aluminum posts, 14 wooden fence posts, 3 rolls of hog wire, 2 rolls of barbed wire, and hired some qualified and reasonably priced fence builders. Alan set one of the gates and the remaining side wall fencing which took Catalunya a half a day to accept and yet he nimbly stepped straight through the 6 slat tall cattle gate lying on the ground like he coulda won at Chinese jumprope.

He followed me around his new corral with both gates still wide open, around the front yard where his favorite Bermuda grass is brown for the winter, down past the chink log cabin, down our path named pinecone alley and back to the path that goes out by the burn barrel. I sang.  He liked it.

Ten days without touching.