Donkeys: charming mischief

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Donkeys are a frequently misunderstood desert animal, says Sally Cooper, owner of Mr Pebbles, the man-donkey who steals hearts as well as glasses

Mr Pebbles at ten months old

The time has come – I have to accept that my latest baby is now not a boy, but a man … ish.
Mister Pebbles is a 14-month old donkey. We initially called him Fluffy – yes, due to the long white hair of the tiny fluffball. Now, however, it is becoming eye-wateringly clear that he is very much a man-donkey. Confirmed recently when the visiting arborist asked me why I had a five-legged donkey!
I don’t think that it is an exaggeration when I say that as a country we are very much under the spell of the donkey. Most of our visitors stop to speak with the donkeys before knocking at the door to see us mere humans.
but as a nation we really don’t know much about the real life version of this much-loved cartoon creature. For starters they are equids, not equines – far better described as more like dogs than horses.
It is naturally a desert animal, so it’s not a good idea to treat donkeys in the same way as a horse. For a start, they aren’t waterproof so they always need access to a roof over their head. Grass is not their natural choice of fodder, either – they need a lot of fibre, so tree branches and leaves (mine prefer willow), cut nettles and lots of thistles (apparently delicious).
Woe betide any unknowing donkey owner who doesn’t feed them enough chunky fibre – they’ll soon start to eat the stable, the fence and the gate …

The noise, the naughtiness
Influenced by their desert background, donkeys are also great stampers. If they find a dog that is not a family member in their field, they latch onto it like an Exocet missile and will stamp at (or on) it with their front legs. To be fair, you never know when you will need to stamp on a snake do you?
Then there is the bray, that Eeyore sound. The noise, the volume, the pleading eyes … our neighbour’s donkeys are a mile away and they can talk quite happily to ours without leaving their field. Well, deserts are big places! This of course also explains the huge ears.
Bonus fact: once they start to bray they can’t stop!
Their absolute favourite pastime is humans. In order to keep you engaged they will try anything – removal of your glasses and dropping them in the water trough … standing in the middle of your exit route … shadowing your every side-step … or simply putting your coat zip in their mouths and walking in the opposite direction.
I challenge anyone having a bad day not to feel more upbeat after a donkey chat.

Mr Pebbles with Rodney
Images: Sally Cooper

Always a double act
So the time has come for Rodney, our older donkey, to escort Mister Pebbles to the vet for castration. Donkeys are relaxed when in pairs and should never be separated – the vets always expect a double act. I can’t help thinking that Rodney will have a wry, knowing smile on his face as they go in!

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