Perry the miniature donkey, who had been missing from his pasture since the death of his companion, Miner 49er, about six weeks ago, has returned to Palo Alto's Barron Park neighborhood. The beloved donkey was brought back from the care of a Salinas veterinarian on Tuesday, where he was sequestered to get over his mourning, said Michele Dauber, his sometime donkey handler.
Perry was ecstatic when he returned to Palo Alto, said City Councilwoman Karen Holman, a Palo Alto Donkey Project steering committee member.
"The trailer came up Paradise Way. Once he realized where he was, he started pulling on the lead," she said. Upon arriving, he showed his pleasure by romping, braying and even rolling around in the dirt, Holman said.
"I'd never seen a donkey do that. The veterinarian said it means that he is happy," she said.
Perry also has another reason to rejoice. He won't face life in the pasture alone. The Donkey Project adopted a new pal, a female, or "Jenny," from the Farm Sanctuary in Santa Clarita in Southern California. The 17-year-old standard-sized donkey is the first female to be present at the site in decades. The last time was probably in the late 1960s when previous property owner Cornelis Bol owned the land, Dauber said.
Perry, 22, and Niner, 32, were taken to Salinas after Niner suffered respiratory distress. Niner was euthanized on Sept. 28. Perry remained under the veterinarian's care so that he would be less traumatized by the loss of his longtime friend, who was also the alpha male. During that time, Perry received a complete examination and was pronounced to be fully healthy. The veterinarian also approved of his habitat in Palo Alto, Dauber said. He remained in Salinas until the new donkey companion could be found to share the Palo Alto pasture, which is privately owned by James Witt. The pasture abuts Bol Park in the Barron Park neighborhood. The Donkey Project, which is managed by the Palo Alto nonprofit Acterra (the group owns the donkeys), leases the pasture from Witt.
"Jenny" arrived on Tuesday afternoon. A soft, gray-brown donkey with the classic brown "cross" of the Jerusalem breed on her back, she has unusually long ears and long, luxurious eyelashes. She's been separated in an enclosed chain-link paddock, where she will remain until she has acclimated to her new surroundings and she and Perry become better acquainted. Steering Committee member Ken Dauber said she would likely remain there for a week.
Having Perry for a companion will also be good for Jenny. She was raised by an older couple that could not care for her any longer. The cows she had once lived with had also died. The Donkey Project received an urgent call from the Farm Sanctuary seeking a home for Jenny. The project was also considering a rare white donkey they nicknamed "Snowball," but ultimately, a vote by the active donkey handlers decided to adopt Jenny, Michele Dauber said.
“I personally was in favor of Jenny because she is lonely and doesn’t have a home. She was in a pasture all alone. It pulled at my heartstrings,” she said.
On Wednesday morning, Perry ranged around outside the fence of his new companion’s paddock, occasionally peering curiously. When the gate opened, he tried to get in. But it isn't time, Ken Dauber said.
Jenny stood nervously in the center. Her expressive eyes and demeanor hinted at the period of isolation she had experienced before coming to Palo Alto. But after some cooing and encouragement, she began to warm, extending her nose tentatively for pets. Then she accepted strokes on her forehead and velvety ears.
After a time, she began to follow her visitors, her eyes shiny from the new attention.
"She's going to be fine," Holman said.
Holman and the Daubers said they are grateful for property owner James Witt's support and dedication to keeping the donkeys on his land. They said it is important for people to understand the land is private property and that no one should enter the pasture unless they are authorized. While visitors might be thrilled to see the donkeys back, Holman said it is imperative that they don’t feed the donkeys. Both are older, and as donkeys age they lose teeth. That makes it harder for them to chew, and if they can’t chew and digest food properly it can be fatal.
But the donkeys will be even more satisfied just receiving attention. They are likely to receive much of that in the coming weeks. People missed the donkeys.
Holman recalled the reactions of passersby when the pasture was empty.
"People would ask, 'Where's the donkeys?'" she said.
Candy Bandong was thrilled to see the donkeys are back. A drawing of Niner she had made hangs outside of the pasture fence, along with hearts colored by schoolchildren.
“I was babysitting my grandchildren and I would bring them every day. “The donkeys have been part of our lives. I have brought international friends from Switzerland and many people to see them. We get to meet lots of friends here,” she said.
The Barron Park donkeys are the first destination of the Tiny Treks program, which introduces very young children to nature. After visiting the donkeys, the group reads stories under the trees across from the pasture, she said.
“This is an institution,” she added.
Holman agreed. The donkeys are a "decades-long tradition and a community-building asset that provides joy and solace," she said.
Ken Dauber said that volunteering with the donkeys is highly rewarding.
"It's a great joy to come here on a day when you've had a busy day after work and you're just interacting with the donkeys," he said of putting the bustle of Silicon Valley life aside.
The Daubers' 16-year-old son Elliot has been a donkey handler caring for the animals since he was 11 years old, even doing his Eagle Scout project there by crafting a wooden bench and adding a small native plant garden. Ken Dauber is a Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education member. He said the Donkey Project would like to hold a contest among local schoolchildren to name the new donkey.
The Donkey Project will also hold a memorial gathering for Niner on Nov. 20 at 11 a.m. in Bol Park. Perry and Jenny will be introduced to the community at the event, Ken Dauber said.
With Niner’s passing, the Donkey Project has also been reincarnated, with plans to expand community education and involve local schools. The donkeys provide animal and nature education opportunities, and there are many opportunities for groups such as Scouts to help, she said.
“We feel like they are a great resource but they are not being fully realized or utilized,” she said. “These animals are really a treasure and an incredible resource. … We really want to see our community embrace the donkeys.”
A five-member steering committee is establishing new procedures for the donkeys’ best care and to expand involvement by the community, Michele Dauber said. The group is seeking volunteers to be donkey handlers among other positions. Each prospective volunteer must be a Palo Alto resident or be a member of the Palo Alto school community. Volunteers undergo background checks, and they will receive training on how to handle the donkeys and to understand their health and other needs.
The project will also develop a fundraising campaign. The Donkey Project had close to $6,000 in veterinary expenses associated with Niner’s death, finding a new donkey and the care and boarding of Perry. There are also ongoing expenses for everything from feed to veterinary care. Donations, which go through the nonprofit Acterra, are tax deductible and can be made through www.barronparkdonkeys.org.