Beloved Palo Alto donkey dies at 32 | News | Palo Alto Online |


Beloved Palo Alto donkey dies at 32

Miner Forty Niner lived a long, 'wise' life in Barron Park neighborhood, handlers say

One of the Barron Park neighborhood's beloved and iconic donkeys, Miner Forty Niner, has died, according to his handlers. He was 32.

Miner, better known as Niner, was euthanized on Wednesday, Sept. 28, after having respiratory and other health problems, donkey handler Inge Harding-Barlow said.

The venerable donkey was part of the neighborhood's legend, along with his companion, Perry. The two donkeys are the latest in a long line of donkeys that stretched back to 1934 when Bol Park was part of a farm owned by Dr. Cornelis Bol.

When Bol died in 1965, the Barron Park Association, led by resident Richard Placone, helped secure the purchase of part of the farm from the Bol family. It was the last large piece of open space in the neighborhood, according to Barron Park historian Douglas Graham.

As descendants of a proud equine history, Niner and Perry entertained thousands of Palo Alto visitors from their paddock in the current Barron Park Pasture owned by James Witt and during Sunday walks during which they grazed in the park. The donkeys took part in parades, weddings and even funerals, Harding-Barlow said.

Niner, who was the larger of the two (Perry is a miniature donkey), had a friendly and curious nature. He would regularly hang his head over the fence to receive pets or try to nibble handbags or other potential sources of treats.

He was born in the Mojave Desert. Many generations of feral donkeys in the Southwest deserts descended from abandoned or escaped mining stock, according to the Bureau of Land Management. Their large numbers were considered destructive to desert habitats, so they were rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management and relocated or given up for adoption.

Niner, while still a yearling, was taken to Los Altos to live with a family, where he stayed for 14 years, Harding-Barlow said. He was given to Barron Park as a companion to another donkey, Mickey, who was the last surviving donkey born at Bol's farm.

His initial introduction to Palo Alto in June 1998 was somewhat challenging, Harding-Barlow recalled. He was "at the peak of his donkeyhood" and pictured himself as the "alpha donkey." But that didn't sit well with Mickey, who wasn't about to relinquish his position, Harding-Barlow said. Niner fell into step in the donkey order until Mickey died, she added.

Niner had other endearing and, at times, frustrating traits.

"He was an escape artist ... If he found a hole in the fence or under the fence, big as he was, he would find a way through it," Harding-Barlow said. "One of the worst times was when he got onto the VA emergency helicopter pad."

Invariably, there would be shouts of "donkey on the loose" at Gunn High School or searches in the park for the wayward beast, and Niner would always be led back on a dog leash. He could even pull the gate bolt out with his nose and mouth and nudge the door open, and eventually it had to be padlocked, Harding-Barlow said.

Niner also had a few phobias to overcome, including a fear of wooden bridges. He refused to cross wooden bridges and would rear and practically knock his handler over, Harding-Barlow said. He finally conquered his fear after Harding-Barlow and handlers Leland and Edith Smith walked him back and forth across a wooden bridge near Gunn several times for a few days, Harding-Barlow said.

Also, his early trauma of being rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management helicopters made him hate the sound of the rotors, Harding-Barlow said. He would go berserk when helicopters landed at the VA or when they arrived to transport construction materials, she recalled.

"Leland Smith was the only person who could really handle him," she said. "He managed to coax him out of his bad moods. It was his patience and love, really, that made Niner into the lovable donkey he became."

As he aged into his 20s, Niner mellowed. He began to like children. And he even shared his special geriatric donkey feed with one particular ground squirrel.

"It was so sweet. The ground squirrel was practically sitting on his nose and he would not object at all," Harding-Barlow said.

When Perry, now 22, arrived, the smaller donkey took his position as the beta male. But like many siblings, they had a love-hate relationship.

"They loved each other, but they occasionally quarreled," Harding-Barlow said.

The Barron Park donkeys cemented their legacy when their movements were filmed for the animated donkey in the "Shrek" movie. There was some debate about whether Perry or Niner would be used as the model for the film's donkey. Niner, perhaps in a bid to upstage his pipsqueak partner, was ultimately undone by his curious nature and his disregard for pretension.

"We were up on top of Strawberry Hill, Jim Bronson and I. One of the people sketching the donkeys was in his early 20s. He was so proud of his big, long boots that were handmade for him. They probably cost $700 to $1,000. Niner sniffs the boots, and starts to lick them and starts to bite them. He was starting to eat this guy's boots," Harding-Barlow remembered.

Harding-Barlow wrote a "last will and testament" on the donkey's behalf last week, which states in part:

"I have little in the way of material things to leave. Donkeys are wiser than men. They do not set great store upon things. They do not waste their days hoarding property. They do not ruin their sleep worrying about how to keep the objects they have, and obtain the objects they have not.

"There is nothing of value I have to bequeath except my love and my faith. These I leave to all those who have loved me, to my Handlers, who I know will mourn me most and to Perry who has been my 'brother' and constant companion for 18 years. If I should list all those who have loved me, I could write a book. Perhaps it is vain of me to boast when I am so near death, which returns all beasts and vanities to dust, but I have always thought that I have been an extremely lovable donkey."

In one last word of farewell for Niner, Harding-Barlow wrote, "Whenever you visit my pasture, always remember my long happy life with you all! No matter how deep my eternal sleep, I shall hear you, and not all the power of death can keep my spirit from welcoming you with my usual bray."

Perry has been removed from the paddock and relocated for what handlers said will be a short stay. Harding-Barlow said she hopes that another donkey companion can be found for him.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said the pasture became part of Bol Park. The Weekly regrets the error.


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


35 people like this
Posted by Friend
a resident of another community
on Oct 4, 2016 at 5:59 pm

Oh, sad news. Niner will be missed. RIP.

Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Portola Valley

on Oct 4, 2016 at 7:47 pm

Due to violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are only visible to registered users who are logged in. Use the links at the top of the page to Register or Login.

5 people like this
Posted by artbuilder
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 4, 2016 at 10:35 pm

contrary to this report the city does Not own the pasture
its privately owned

25 people like this
Posted by BP
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 5, 2016 at 12:15 am

Losing Niner is so sad. He helped to make Barron Park a unique place.

15 people like this
Posted by Katy
a resident of another community
on Oct 5, 2016 at 12:37 am

Katy is a registered user.

Niner will be missed. I hope a companion for Perry can be found soon.

11 people like this
Posted by Where is Perry?
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 5, 2016 at 1:02 am

Niner has been passed away for a week now and does anyone know where is Perry? Children want to see Perry and know that he is not dead too. This whole neighborhood and community is grieving.

12 people like this
Posted by Bruce
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 5, 2016 at 6:09 am

TO: Where is Perry?

"Perry has been removed from the paddock and relocated for what handlers said will be a short stay. Harding-Barlow said she hopes that another donkey companion can be found for him."

32 people like this
Posted by A grandchild
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 5, 2016 at 9:38 am

I'm often saddened that my grandmother,Oma - Josina Bol, is so seldom mentioned. She fed and cared for the donkeys for many decades. As kids we loved to gather up the carrots and others veggies and tromp over to feed the donkeys with her.

4 people like this
Posted by Richard Placone
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 5, 2016 at 11:10 am

One correction to this story. While I do not remember the exact date of Dr. Bol's death, it was in the early 1970's that the Bol Family offered the "donkey pasture" to the community at a below market price if it would be made into a park. What is now Bol Park was dedicated in 1974, one year prior to the annexation of Barron Park to Palo Alto. The residents of Barron Park taxed themselves to be able to establish the park. Keeping and caring for the donkeys became a permanent part of that project. Upon annexation to Palo Alto, the city assumed ownership of the park as well as the former Southern Pacific railroad right of way, which had been given to the Barron Park community as a gift. The city then developed the right of way into the current shared pathway. It is correct that I was the president of the Barron Park Association during this time.

9 people like this
Posted by Carol Gilbert
a resident of University South
on Oct 5, 2016 at 11:26 am

Sorry to hear of Niner's death. We have always enjoyed our time spent at Bol Park. Thank you, Bol family for what you have done for Palo Alto. I have lovely pictures to remember Niner by. Looking forward to the return of Perry and truly hope that a great companion will come to share his space with him.

8 people like this
Posted by Akey
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 5, 2016 at 11:44 am

So when can we put up a statue of Niner. I believe its quite appropriate, and as the article mentions donkeys are wiser than men. Why not rename one of our schools after him? it would be much better than honoring eugenicists like Terman or JLS that advocated for policies we would now associate with dystopian fascist nightmares.

Rename Terman or Gunn to Niner Middle/High School!

9 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 5, 2016 at 11:44 am

Thanks for the memories, Niner! I hope this area of Palo Alto can retain its unique equine and rural character.

19 people like this
Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 5, 2016 at 12:00 pm

This is really sad. I always looked forward to seeing Niner on my walk and I eventually considered him "my boyfriend". Once he entered his mellow stage he would bray when I approached and let me touch his face. He relaxed and hung his head on the fence, and got a kind of contemplative expression. And he wouldn't let Perry near me. Then, one day I found out that he had another affectionate friend, too! There was a friendly Russian lady in the pasture giving him enthusiastic hugs and kisses, and he was clearly enjoying the attention. I will miss him a lot. It's nice to hear about his history.... so many things he never told me! I guess it's like that with obituaries: yet, it seems wrong that we only get to know more about a beloved after they die. Thank you Bol Family, Inga Harding-Barlow, and Dick Placone for enriching the lives of those of us who love animals.

Great story, Sue Dremann. Thanks for writing it.

8 people like this
Posted by Max
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 5, 2016 at 2:39 pm

That's really sad! His memory will be a blessing to us all. I am very grateful that many of us got to share some time with him, and its something very special about Palo Alto. He lives on in our hearts and wherever he is, I bet he's really happy.

6 people like this
Posted by We Will Miss Him
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 5, 2016 at 5:28 pm

We Will Miss Him is a registered user.

Thirty-two is a ripe old age for a donkey, especially one in captivity. They are prone to founder and colic.

Rest well, Niner.

Like this comment
Posted by Chrisc
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 5, 2016 at 5:31 pm

Which Burris were there in about 1982? We used to run through there at noon, and the Burris would be standing in mud up to their "knees?" And looked so miserable, they did not look well-cared for and I was very sad. Remember 1973? I think it still holds the record for total rainfall.

Like this comment
Posted by Chrisc
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 5, 2016 at 11:22 pm

In my previous comment, I meant "1983." Wish there were an edit function.

4 people like this
Posted by Gene Simpson
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 6, 2016 at 6:23 pm

Thank you to the thoughtful caring donkey handlers who “camped” at the Steinbeck Country Equine Clinic in Salinas CA for Niner’s last days, staying with him and Perry all day, petting them and talking to them.

Perry can be brought back to Palo Alto anytime, but he would be too depressed coming back to the paddock in Barron Park without his mate Niner. It is best to adopt one or two donkeys and then bring Perry to join them in Parry’s paddock.

Donkeys are “herd” animals. Donkeys feel best with equine companions. Also older animals feel more comfortable with another older relaxed animal, as younger animals are more active and can frighten an older animal who can't see or hear so well, so it would be best to try to adopt older donkeys. Older donkeys also feel vulnerable due to the loss of eyesight and hearing and they definitely prefer to have at least one friend for comfort although two companions would be better.

3 people like this
Posted by Truth Be Told
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2016 at 9:58 am

Truth Be Told is a registered user.

Did Niner die of old age, or an illness? I ask because I have known donkeys in captivity to live to be 45 or more. I know of one in my veterinarian's practice who lived to be 51.

These days, with regular worming, proper nutrition, monthly doses of psyllium to clear sand from the gut, and equine dentistry, all equines are living beyond their previous life expectancies.

Like this comment
Posted by Candi Campbell
a resident of another community
on Oct 6, 2017 at 3:30 pm

Back in the late 80s & early 90s, I used to lure-course my Whippets on (is it) the Gunn High School playing fields -- My 2 young sons and I always enjoyed visiting "Mickey the Donkey", who was in residence there at the time, and feeding him carrots I would bring with for that purpose ... He really loved all the attention from us & would always sniff nose-to-nose with the hounds as well.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Los Altos's State of Mind opening NYC-inspired pizza shop in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 16 comments | 8,353 views

Flying: How much is enough? It's personal.
By Sherry Listgarten | 15 comments | 2,879 views

Wait, wait – we’re working on it
By Diana Diamond | 18 comments | 2,515 views

My Pet Peeves
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 7 comments | 1,958 views

Goodbye toy stores
By Cheryl Bac | 8 comments | 1,263 views


Short story writers wanted!

The 34th Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult and Teen categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by March 27, 2020. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category. Sponsored by Kepler's Books, Linden Tree Books and Bell's Books.

Contest Details