Little Donkey, Big Love: Animal Lovers Come Together to Save a Miniature Donkey
The home of Robert “Bob” Pollock — proprietor of Hudson Valley’s Buttermilk Falls Inn + Spa and adjacent Millstone Farm — is crowded. He lives there with his wife, four-year-old son, newborn daughter and three Poodles. And, lately, a baby Miniature Donkey named Holly has been crashing there too, often napping on the bedroom floor.
The Pollock family is not the first to embrace Miniature Donkeys; celebrities like Reese Witherspoon and Martha Stewart have kept the adorable creatures as pets. But this isn’t just a case of someone taking an interest in a quirky pet. A chain of do-gooders are responsible for Holly the donkey’s survival and, ultimately, her happy life on the Pollocks’ farm.
Millstone Farm As Rescue Refuge
Bob Pollock grew up in New York City, an urban kid with a surprising hobby: He belonged to the Brooklyn Botanic’s Children’s Garden and had his own patch of earth on which to grow plants. But it wasn’t until, as an adult, he bought two adjoining properties — a weekend home and a hotel — in Milton, New York, about 90 minutes from the city, that his love of nature was realized on a grander scale. “I wanted to control what I was eating, so I started conceiving a victory garden,” recalls Pollock, who has a degree in biochemistry that enabled his increased focus on botany. “The orchard has apples, pears, apricots, even kiwis.” Pollock’s interest didn’t stop at growing his own vegetables. “I read The Queen Must Die, got interested in beekeeping and started raising bees. I built a chicken house and gave hens only organic feed and kelp, so we could have fresh omega-3 superfood eggs.”
Before long, Pollock began rescuing farm animals, often with the aid of the nearby nonprofit Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. These days he keeps about 35 chickens (and serves guests fresh eggs each morning), five peacocks, geese, angora goats and 21 camelids, including llamas, alpacas, even three vicuñas. The Pollocks shear the wool and make six types of yarn out of it, which they plan to market and sell soon.
The Arrival of Bonnie and Clyde
In 2011 Hurricane Irene hit the east coast; properties, including farms, were flooded and crops were threatened and damaged. But agriculture was not the only concern; people and animals were displaced by the storm. Specifically, in northeastern New York, two Miniature Donkeys named Bonnie and Clyde stood stranded on a spit of land, surrounded by water.
They were saved by a good samaritan, the son of an equestrian. And he kept the two animals until the upkeep proved too onerous. His mother called rescue organizations and was finally pointed in the direction of animal lover Bob Pollock. “It’s not just about adopting animals,” says Pollock. “There’s a lot of responsibility: They require veterinary care, ample food and a place to live.”
For Bonnie and Clyde, Pollock built a Donkey House with heat and electricity. “Who doesn’t love donkeys? They’re stubborn, smart and freethinking,” he adds.
The Deal With Miniature Donkeys
According to Cindy Benson — who, with her equine veterinarian husband, owns and runs Benson Ranch in Gold Hill, Oregon, host to about 100 Miniature Donkeys — people within the Miniature Donkey community have a saying: “If you have to ask why you have one, then you haven’t met one.”
Benson first fell in love with the notoriously playful and friendly breed at a horse show, when she (against the advice of her husband, who worried she’d incur the owners’ wrath) climbed right into the donkeys’ stall and cuddled with them. Benson’s interest led her to research the species, and she discovered an interesting fact: Unlike Miniature Horses, these donkeys are a hearty bunch thanks to little genetic modification.
“Miniature Donkeys are much more a product of natural selection, so they have few long-term health issues and are supposed to live to between 30 and 40 years old,” she explains. “Personality-wise, they’re a cross between a kindergartner and a Labrador dog — tractable, trainable and easy to please.” Benson takes her Miniature Donkeys to community service functions because they’re so easygoing.
Generally, Miniature Donkey foals — or babies — are born at a height of about 19 or 20 inches, hovering in the vicinity of 20 pounds. They most often grow to between 31 and 35 inches tall. (If a donkey grows to over 36 inches tall at the shoulder, it is not considered miniature.) At between three and four years old, they’re considered mature.
Miniature Donkeys remain playful throughout their lives and are happiest with buddies around so they can run, rear and box at each other. Basically, they’re a ton of fun!
A Christmas Eve Miracle… With a Twist
Soon after the first two Miniature Donkeys arrived to live at Millstone Farm with Bob Pollock, veterinarians determined that Bonnie was pregnant. Miniature donkeys gestate for 11 to 12 months, but the doctors could not determine how far along Bonnie was.
The baby came later than expected. Ultimately, Bonnie gave birth to a little foal on December 24, 2012 (just a month or so after the Pollocks welcomed their second child). They named her Holly in honor of the holiday. She was healthy and fine. But there was one problem: Her mother Bonnie rejected her.
Generally, Miniature Donkeys either accept or reject a baby within about 20 minutes of the birth. A jennet, or female donkey, is more likely to reject the newborn if she is young. “Miniature Donkeys are generally good parents,” explains Benson. “And it’s most often a first-time mother that rejects the foal because the pregnancy is uncomfortable and the birthing process hurts and then that foal starts bumping the utters that already hurt and it can be confusing for a new mom. She might think of the foal as something that’s trying to hurt her.”
In this case, Bonnie had a case of colic, which is different than the health issue we associate with human babies. Horses tend to die more often after childbirth from this type of abdominal issue. Essentially, colic is a stomachache caused by a variety of things, from gas to actual blockages; the affected animal thrashes in pain, which can create dangerous intestinal twisting. Regardless of whether she would have accepted Holly otherwise, Bonnie’s own discomfort rendered that less likely.
When Millstone Farm’s staff arrived at the Donkey House, they found Holly surrounded by a circle of llamas. The llamas had instinctively stepped in to protect the newborn miniature donkey from any possible harm. The staff and veterinarian quickly removed the parents from the baby (male donkeys have to be separated from females during birth because they may kill the offspring), addressed Bonnie’s colic and began milking her and serving her baby a mixture of mother’s milk and formula in bottles. “We set up schedules and all milked Bonnie and fed the baby every two hours ourselves. Some people basically slept in the Donkey House,” recalls Pollock.
Holly’s Life Now
These days, Holly is thriving and beloved by the whole Millstone Farm staff, especially the Pollock family and their four-year-old son, Henry.
Holly often stays in the Pollock home, where even the dogs are accepting, but she lives in the Donkey House with her parents, separated by a swinging gate so that they can safely bond. “Now they seem to get along well, so we let them [be] together outside in the field,” says Pollock. “They’re not the most nurturing parents, so Holly plays more with the llamas and alpacas, running around and chasing each other.”
When she was born, Holly was about 15 pounds, but now she’s up to around 40 pounds. She eats a combination of formula and equine feed.
Meanwhile, watching his own newborn daughter, Frieda, and this Miniature Donkey baby, Bob Pollock is impressed. “There’s a month between them in age,” he notes. “Look at Holly! She’s already on her feet and eating!”