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Donkeys kick off new show at Geauga County Fair
Donkeys kick off new show at Geauga County Fair
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
Donkeys will have their moment in the sun this year at the Great Geauga County Fair.
The fair will debut its first donkey and miniature donkey show at the small grandstand on the fairgrounds at 8 a.m. Sept. 5.
"Donkey people are loving the idea of doing something like this," Chester Township resident Wendy Nye, who helped organize the show, said.
For the past two years, donkeys have been part of the exhibits at the fair, but this will be the first competition ever held, she said.
"We thought, wouldn't it be fun if we could have a show," she said.
Mrs. Nye said she was not sure that the first show would be a huge success, as she was expecting possibly 20 animals to be entered. But, they found the braying animals were more popular than expected. There will be 32 donkeys entered in six classes.
The turnout caused Randy Bennett, fair director for the event, to exclaim that the donkeys were taking over the fair, Mrs. Nye said.
Lucinda Wolf, who along with Mrs. Nye are part of the Donkey Mule Association of the Western Reserve, said most people generally have stereotypical images of donkeys as being dimwitted or stubborn. But, she said, they are loyal, loving and intelligent creatures that make some of the best pets around.
"Donkeys and mules have been underrated in the equine world," Mrs. Wolf said. "It's time for them to share in the limelight."
Mrs. Wolf said that miniature donkeys, unlike miniature horses, are not bred to be small. Their genetic makeup has provided a smaller version of the larger donkeys. Miniatures, she said, are generally about 36 inches at the withers, or shoulders, while larger donkeys measure about 56 inches at the withers.
Neither woman said she was particularly a fan of donkeys earlier in life. Mrs. Wolf said she was dead set against getting a donkey. But, she said, her husband, who drove by Mrs. Nye's farm daily, continued to push her to try them.
Similarly, Mrs. Nye said, she was not enamored with donkeys, at first, having been raised around horses all her life.
Now, they say, there is no better animal in the world to have as a companion.
"If people never met a donkey, they don't know how wonderful they are," Mrs. Nye said. "For us, they are our luxuries, they are our loves."
They are great with children and are used as therapy animals, she said.
That affection for the animal is what drew them together to form the association. Mrs. Nye said the organization was originally a loose-fitted group of ladies who met for lunch, just to share talk about the love of their lives.
The group has grown to 35 members who meet to hear guest speakers such as veterinarians, who might talk about proper care of donkeys. Mrs. Nye said that is the biggest goal of the association, to help others who have taken donkeys into their lives, educating them on the proper care. Even a donkey help line has been set up to answer donkey owners questions.
Donkeys, which are originally from North Africa and the Mediterranean area, have been for years used as beasts of burden. But, Mrs. Wolf said, most now view them as gentle and loving pets.
She said they tend to be more healthy and hearty than horses and have life spans of 30 to 40 years and weights up to 300 pounds.
While they could be raised on smaller lots, Mrs. Nye said, they are curious animals who would get bored if just confined to a stall. She said they should be walked for at least a half-hour, twice a day, if not given space to roam.
Traditionally, donkeys have taken a back seat to horses, generally because they are viewed as dumb or stubborn animals. But, Mrs. Nye said, those stereotypes are quickly dispelled when one gets to know the animal.
"They are incredibly intelligent animals, but you have to let them learn on their own time," she said.
Mrs. Wolf said one of her donkeys would not step on or over a fresh stripe of tar on the road. While it appears that the animal was being stubborn, she said, it was more that the donkey noted something out of the ordinary and wanted to know what it was before walking over it.
"They just don't do," she said. "They think about what they're doing."
She said that is the reason donkeys, rather than horses, are used for tours of the Grand Canyon. They are more sure-footed and will stop if they sense danger.
Although they have generally had a bad image to overcome, Mrs. Wolf said, they were important throughout history. It was mules and oxen who moved the wagons westward during this nation's expansion.
Mules are the result of a horse for a mother and a donkey for a father, Mrs. Nye said. "They have the agility of a horse and the intelligence and heartiness of a donkey," she said.
Mrs. Wolf said mountain men, the earliest explorers of the Rockies, used the pack animals and referred to them as "mountain canaries." Their braying could be heard for miles and mountain men could locate one another through their "singing."
Biblical stories often portrayed them as humble creatures, who performed noble work. Mary was carried to Bethlehem on one, she said. And, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of one on Palm Sunday.
One distinguishing feature of donkeys is a cross, with a line that runs down their spines and another line that runs along each shoulder.
Mrs. Wolf said legends attribute the cross to the reward they received for work they performed in the Bible. She said the story goes that as Mary rode into Bethlehem, the donkey she rode on, picked up a thorn in its hoof. But, the animal continued in pain until he arrived at their destination. That night, Mrs. Wolf said, Mary placed a blanket on the donkey and when she removed it the next morning, the cross was there.
Another story goes that the donkey wanted to carry Christ's cross, but was denied. Instead, the animal followed Christ on his march up to Calvary. When the shadow of the cross fell on the animal, it remained for all time, she said.
Mrs. Nye said she hopes that people will take the time to see the donkeys at the fair so they can learn what their owners have known for so long.
"It's part of history at the fair," she said.
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