Thursday, February 23, 2012

Simon Says

I’ll never forget the first time I heard a donkey bray. We were in Jamaica visiting some of the men that come to pick apples on Indian Ladder Farms. When we spent some time with Vinroy Smalling, who lives in the southwestern part of Jamaica  in the parish of St. Elizabeth not far from Black River, we stayed in a home owned by his parents who, at the time were in Philadelphia. The home was located at the top of a small mountain and enjoyed wonderful breezes. One morning I woke to an ungodly sound, a sort of strangled scream that built to a crescendo that I eventually determined was a real-life hee-haw—a donkey bray. When I looked out I found a small, scruffy-brown donkey tied to a bush, right outside the bedroom window. Now I have a donkey of my own. His name is Simon. He is also a small, brown donkey—a miniature Sicilian donkey to be precise.

Simon was a birthday present given to me by my husband and son. He brays a lot, especially in the early morning, sort of like a rooster, not necessarily at first light but when he decides it is past time for breakfast. At first he was a demure, fuzzy little beast with dainty hooves and huge, brown eyes—skinny, blowing his winter coat, and sorely in need of a worming. As we got to know him better, and he grew healthier and stronger we soon found that he had another side to his personality.

Simon’s job was to be a guardian for my son’s four Nigerian dwarf milking goats, who seemed small and defenseless out in the pasture, especially when the coyotes howled at night.  He was a year old and, as it turns out, intact—as in, not castrated. Never having had a horse-type animal before I was more accustomed to gentler language, such as “neuter” and “wether.” As one by one the goats, all female, began to come into heat, we realized we needed a guardian to protect the goats from their guardian. Simon relentlessly chased the goats, biting them whenever he got close enough. One day we heard a hideous screaming. My husband ran outside to find Simon holding one of the goats in his mouth by the neck and swinging her around, apparently trying to kill her. Simon went to live with the sheep (four wethers being raised for meat). He was indifferent to them and they to him. He pined for the goats, from which he was separated by a fence. Oddly, despite the fact he was trying to kill them, the goats wanted to be with Simon as well. They walked up and down on opposite sides of the fence line with him, and slept beside him,  on the other side of the fence, when he lay down. Periodically we tried to reintroduce him into the goats’ pasture but always with the same results.

That’s when I called the equine vet. I explained the situation. “Castration can only help,” she counseled. So castration it was. Nearly $500 later Simon was minus his testicles. The operation, which was done in the barn with local anesthetic, only quieted him for a day or two. Soon he was back at it. We, who had expected a miracle cure for his personality disorder, were very disappointed. But after talking with others we learned that testosterone takes a really long time to get out of the body and it could take as long as a year for Simon to calm down. Simon was castrated in the fall and I’m happy to say he is calming down. He now resides in the barn with the goats. My husband has created safe havens for them, where they can get in but Simon can’t and this helps.

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