By Sandra J. Pady
Animals can love unconditionally. This is divine love in action, a love that's there no matter what you say or how bad you feel that day.... We are all Soul dwelling here in the world of nature.
~Harold Klemp, Animals are Soul too!
Shortly after I had established the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada, Clint came into our lives. Prior to that evening we had taken in eighteen other donkeys in need of a home, but Clint's arrival marked a turning point of sorts. Twenty years later I can see that from that day my desire to help these gentle creatures became, without doubt, a lifelong commitment.
On that snowy, grey December morning, which happened to be the day of our annual family holiday party, the call had come into our farm from a concerned resident who lived two hours away.
"For several days now at the farm next door," he told us, "an old donkey has been lying in the field. He never gets up. The owner says he wants to get rid of him. He really needs your help." Soon thereafter, Karen, our barn manager, was on her way to investigate, while my husband, David, and I remained at home preparing for our guests.
The hours passed. Our siblings, nieces and nephews arrived and it was soon time for dinner and the sharing of gifts. Everyone was in a festive mood, although at the back of my mind concern for the little donkey was ever present.
Finally, just after 6 p.m., the headlamps of our truck and trailer appeared in the gloom. As I looked out from the kitchen window, the lights in the barnyard came on and I saw Karen moving towards the back of the trailer. Hurrying outside I was just in time to see a frail, elderly, mud-covered white donkey try to hobble down the ramp and into the snow-covered yard. We rushed to support him, and then more or less carried him to the drive shed where he virtually collapsed.
Those were my first, unforgettable moments with Clint.
We were, in those days, very new at the practice of animal rescue and care. Our nineteenth century barn had a selection of falling down stalls, all of which were currently occupied by other animals. The temperature forecast was to stay well below freezing during the coming days. We sensed that this latest arrival, weakened as he was and showing a fever, would not survive the cold temperatures in an open part of our old barn.
A solution had to be found. Without thinking twice we looked over at the semi-heated garage attached to the farmhouse. We quickly realized its above-freezing indoor environment provided our only option.
In great haste family members were commandeered to bring bales of hay, straw, blankets, and pails for water up from the barn. Three nephews worked quickly to cart up and then assemble the portable stall. This Christmas party would not soon be forgotten!
Before too much time had passed, and just in time to mark our veterinarian's arrival, we supported the exhausted donkey as he hobbled across the yard only to sink down gratefully into the fresh thick straw bed in the portable stall. Clint had suffered from the ravages of repeated exposure to freezing temperatures while he lay in the field, day after day, with hooves so overgrown he could barely stand. We knew his recovery would be painfully slow.
In those first moments with Clint in the garage we did not imagine that our emergency solution would turn into an extended residency, one during which two people and a donkey would share living quarters for weeks on end while one of them gained enough strength to cope with the demands of our Ontario winter.
At first, Clint lay down most of the time. His damaged hooves caused him too much pain whenever he tried to put his weight on them. Our veterinarian cautioned us that improvement would be gradual, and most likely minimal. Clint would probably have to take pain medication for the rest of his life since the founder in his hooves had caused the pedal bones to rotate. Slowly, though, day by day, his condition improved and he was able to stand for longer and longer periods.
And the healthier Clint became the more vocal he became. As it happened, our bedroom was above the garage and Clint learned very quickly to recognize the sound of our feet in the morning when David and I got up to begin our day. His clarion call became a daily feature of our morning routine. Clint was hungry and he wanted us to know it.
Now, as you may know, taking care of equines requires the carrying out of many chores that never come to an end. Since his stall was virtually in the house, separated only by a single wall, it had to be cleaned out completely every day. Manure and urine had to be removed and the floor washed, while bales of hay and straw were toted up from the barn on an ongoing basis. Then there were the pails of water that needed frequent replenishing. As his recuperation continued, we got to know Clint very well. He looked forward to receiving our attention, and loved it: scratching his long beautiful ears always soothed him, while a good brushing of his coat could occasion grunts of contentment.
Improving health had its downside, however, which came in the form of Clint's increasing restlessness. His vocalizations began to noticeably increase. He would bray first thing in the morning as well as every time he heard people approaching the garage. Then, in spite of his hooves, he began to determinedly pace back and forth, albeit slowly. Eventually, the day arrived when all three of us reached the limit. The donkey was getting bored in his solitary stall, and David and I were certainly ready to have a little more peace and quiet.
Five weeks after his arrival, on a sunny winter's morning, Clint walked carefully down to the barn. In no time at all, he settled in most comfortably with his other donkey companions and was much more content, we knew, to be once again a part of the equine world.
Clint went on to live at the Sanctuary for five more years. Although we monitored his condition carefully, as the vet had predicted, he never really returned to completely good health. Running in our fields was never an option for him. But his spirit was indomitably strong and he thrived on the loving attention that Sanctuary visitors gave him. He knew what he wanted at all times and he knew how to communicate his needs. During those years, Clint's distinctive bray became a familiar part of the chorus of sounds in our lives. To this day, I can still feel the softness of the touch of his nose whenever he would nuzzle against my side, looking for a pat and a hug.
Our experiences with Clint will never be forgotten, and they taught us that Christmas presents can take many forms, but the best one of all is the opportunity to give assistance to a helpless creature in need.