Yesterday I promised to blog about donkeys. This donkey post was meant to be a towering work of research covering many different aspects of these lovable albeit stubborn equines. I was going to write about their domestication in remote prehistory, their profound utility to human society throughout the long millennia, and their importance in the most ancient art and literature. I was even going to make references to the wild onager, an exquisite endangered species of donkey which runs faster than thoroughbred racehorses (and is very nearly the world’s fastest land animal). But then it occurred to me that I could write about all of this in the indefinite future and, for today, write a picture-heavy post about adorable miniature donkeys!
The miniature donkey is more properly the Mediterranean miniature donkey. They were originally bred in Sardinia, Sicily, and southern Italy as dray animals, but a far-sighted American donkey enthusiast imported them to the United States in the 1920s just because he liked them. The largest miniature donkeys stand a majestic 9 hands tall at the withers when fully grown (for non-horse people this translates to 91 centimeters (3 feet) tall at the shoulders), but most are smaller. Miniature donkeys can pull carts, act as shepherds or companion animals, and generally do whatever their ancient forbears did, however, in today’s world the miniature donkey is largely kept as an endearing pet. They are particularly successful as therapy animals—they go and cheer up the elderly, the disabled, or children with terminal illnesses (which presents a touching picture of their gentle temperament).
These little donkeys can be gray, brown, black, sorrel, or spotted (or rarely white). Most donkeys have pale “points” around their eyes and muzzles and a “cross” of longer fur which runs down from the top of their head to their tail and meets with a stripe of fur running from shoulder to shoulder up across their withers (Christian mythology claims this cross denotes a blessing from Jesus to all donkeys for their loyalty and friendliness–but donkeys’ cross-shape manes long predate the New Testament). Donkeys in general–and miniature donkeys in particular–are noted for their great intelligence. This intellect also makes them recalcitrant to certain human projects: stubbornness is a noted feature of donkeys (although patient & mild-tempered trainers assert that this famous obduracy largely stems from mishandling). Miniature donkeys have similar habits and needs to horses, but they have longer lives. The average life span for these tiny donkeys is 30 – 35 years! If you are blessed with sufficient acreage and outbuildings, and you feel that you will live long enough to have miniature donkeys as pets, it is important to remember that they are highly social heard animals and will suffer without constant companionship from other donkeys and horses (although people who keep them as shepherds aver that a flock of goats will also keep them occupied). These donkeys are so cute! I just love them (and I couldn’t help but notice a shocking number of the photos of them feature people hugging on them), but I think my housecat would object to having one in Brooklyn…to say nothing of my landlady or Mayor DeBlasio!