Preface – About a donkey
When King Ranch and I bought this property, we had written into our contract that we would be assuming the ownership of a donkey named Bunny. Prior to our ownership, Bunny lived as the security guard for 6 horses. That’s what they’re bred for—donkeys—to watch over the herd and protect them from animals such as coyotes, wolves, and bobcats. Bunny, we were told, had previously fought off a bobcat and now bears a long scar on her back leg as proof that it’s no easy job.
Despite their ability to stomp out snakes and buck intruders into oblivion, donkeys are gentle and lovely creatures. They’re social and thrive on companionship. So when Bunny’s 6 horses moved away to their new home, she became desperate for attention. King Ranch and I did all kinds of reading about donkeys and what they need to thrive and throughout all of our research, we learned that one donkey is harder to take care of than two or more solely because of their dependence on friendship. Without a partner (or several) they do things like chew on fences out of stress, gnaw obsessively at their legs, and only sleep for two hours a night due to lack of a snuggle-buddy.
It became clear that we needed to find a friend for Bunny. And quickly.
King Ranch, Little Foot, and I arrive at a satellite location for the Humane Society of North Texas in apprehension and excitement that we may be meeting our newest family member today. As we pull in, the rich smell of livestock welcomes us to a safe-haven for the bruised, battered, and brave animals that have held on long enough to hopefully find new homes. Horses neigh. Donkeys bray. Tails are flicking and lips are flapping. It’s a vast acreage of hodgepodge hope and happiness—all these surviving equine sharing stories and hay.
We’re greeted by a warm woman named Jo—bright, blonde hair and speckled cheeks—who walks towards us from around the main house. A dark, gray Great Dane with swollen eyes follows behind her with his tongue dangling down below his floppy jaw. She tells me recognizes my voice from the phone call I made to them earlier in the day and leads us under the rusted, iron fence and out into the pasture where the potential adoptees are grazing. We hike quite a ways out. Horses taller than King Ranch lift their heads from the scattered piles of hay. They continue to chew—their manes falling down over their eyes—following us with their gaze as we pass them one by one. Some even follow us for a few steps but fall behind once they realize we’re not there for them. Every animal that we pass has a story and Jo knows them all.
She points at a towering, terracotta horse with a light, tan mane standing next to a smaller, beige horse with dark freckles on its back-end.
“These two were found together,” she says, “barely any meat on their bones. We didn’t think they’d make it.”
She pats the speckled one on the rump and I stop briefly at the larger one. I look into his (or her, I’m not sure) eyes and they’re a bottomless brown of memories all swimming and swirling around the past. I hold the gaze for a moment, hoping that he or she connects with my reassurance that good things are to come before patting his or her nose and moving on to catch up with my pack. I like making eye contact with animals. I don’t really know what it must mean to them, but my hope is that they will feel seen.
There are several donkeys of all shapes and sizes walking and jogging around the edges of this property. They all stick together and are skittish towards us. As we walk towards them, they scatter and reconvene with one another at a safe distance.
Jo points them out one by one, telling us their names and their stories. She describes their personalities—some shy. Some aggressive. Some real old and some real young.
Jo says, “We also got a mini.” She jerks her head, motioning back up towards the house.
“A mini?” I ask, looking at King Ranch who has a sideways grin.
“Yup,” she says, “back up this way.” She scratches the back of her neck beneath her long, frizzy, blonde hair and clears her throat.
King Ranch adjusts Little Foot on his waist and we follow Jo back towards the entry. As we hike back, Jo continues to tell us survival stories of the horses, donkeys, and mules that we pass. She had taken the time to get to know each of them.
Back at the main house is a small pack of mini ponies—6 of them. They are all a beautifully groomed brown with long, luscious, blonde manes that hang down below their necks like capes—a lollipop gang of neighs, snorts, and uncontrollable cuteness. The ponies are not up for adoption—rather, they make trips to local schools and hospitals to cheer up children. They have a job.
On the edge of the mini-pack, with a flicking tail and and a long row of spiky hair down his neck is a single mini donkey. His knees are swollen knots on stubby legs and is gray with a cross on his back, just like Bunny. As we approach, he screeches an epic bray—his mouth wide open with all of his teeth showing. It doesn’t zig-zag like Bunny’s but instead, his sound is jagged steel being pulled across the cement.
He is perfection. Pure, pint-size perfection.
“His name is Bert,” Jo tells us, “because he had a brother named Ernie.”
“What happened to Ernie?” I ask.
“He was taken already,” she says, “a couple days back.”
Bert snorts, stomps his tiny back hoof, and shuffles away with his head down to catch up with the pack of mini horses that have started to wander away. They all keep their little backs turned to him, yet, he follows optimistically.
“He sure is trying to get along with these ponies,” I say.
“Yup,” she says.
King Ranch and I make giddy eye contact. Even Little Foot is grinning, showing his 4 teeth. King Ranch raises his eyebrows and tilts his head to the side. He agrees. This is the one.
“Alright,” I say, “we’ll take him.”
Back at the property, we let Bert in through the side gate. Bunny’s ears point straight up and her eyes are wide with curiosity. As soon as Bert trots into the yard, Bunny takes off into the back of the property snorting.
King Ranch asks, “Do you like the name, Bert?” His nose wrinkled a bit.
I say, “I don’t know. I guess. Why?”
“I think we should call him Tyrion” he says, grinning.
King Ranch and I had just finished catching up on HBO’s popular series, ‘Game of Thrones’ based on the equally popular books by George R.R. Martin. In this series, one of the only consistently sympathetic characters among a host of other really terrible people is a little person named Tyrion (pronounced Tee-ree-un). We’d become big fans of this show.
I laugh, “Seriously?”
King Ranch, smiling, says, “Tyrion.”
I shake my head, laughing and say, “Tyrion. Tyrion the mini donkey.”
Tee sees Bunny and slowly approaches. Bunny is frantic, retreating as far from him as she can.
This game of distance goes on for two days. Tee follows Bunny around the yard and Bunny runs away from him. This frustrates me because we thought she’d enjoy a companion. King Ranch assures me that it’s okay and will just take time.
On the third day, Little Foot and I go out into the pasture with a coffee can full of apple treats. Both Bunny and Tee saunter up to us, taking turns nibbling treats from my hand. I’m thrilled to be touching them at the same time. After the treats are gone and the face rubs are given, Bunny and Tee wander off together and I catch Bunny touching her nose to his. It’s quick. But it happened.
Since then, Bunny and Tee have been inseparable. They follow each other all day. If one begins to bray, so does the other. If one rolls in the dust, so does the other. They’re the best of friends and frankly, Bunny has never looked healthier.
For Bunny, her grounding has come from Tee. Perhaps any other donkey would have done the same thing for her, but perhaps not. Maybe Tee was her anchor and any other donkey would have only made things worse. Who knows. Either way, there’s no doubt that Tee has completed our family here at the ranch. He’s trotted into all of our hearts, braying like a maniac and kicking his tiny little legs, and it’s never felt more like home.