A photo of my angelic mentor and girl friend Kelly with A.J. the mammoth donkey (kisses for A.J.), Kelly & Richard her husband are the care taker of donkeys, mules and horses at Mas Ass Acres, Washington State. This is the farm where we purchased Rio our Mammoth donkey and Rocket Man. Here is a little story she wrote explaining “for the love of donkeys” enjoy!
GOD bless you and your family two and four-legged!
This is a story about a remarkable Mammoth donkey named Alma Jean ( AJ for short) who to this day graces my life with her presence.
It was a cool, rainy October morning. I entered the damp barn feeling the approach of another ominous winter. For nearly 9 years, I have been the care-giver at a donkey ranch in the Pacific Northwest. Experience has shown that this part of the West Coast is not kind to the Mammoth donkey. Much of my time is spent dealing with hoof problems due to wet, cold and inappropriate environment. Winters are long and often heart-breaking. In this post, I will not digress into insights, philosophy, natural remedies, diets, footing or current approaches to the causes and treatment of hoof abscesses. There is as much folklore as to the causes and treatment for hoof abscesses as there are for cancer in humans. This is a love story that includes all of the above, but focuses on a remarkable donkey.
AJ is about 24 years-old. She is a magnificent spotted Mammoth with a personality and temperament of a Zen monk: she is kind, loving, gentle, strong, brave and grateful. On this particular morning one of her attributes was shining through as she limped into the barn (my mind notes ”left hind”): she is stoic and uncomplaining. Ugh oh, I mumble, abscess. I go to her and put my arms around her. I tell her I will fix it ( these days I add the word “try” ). I go through my “abscess” routine and after about an hour she is more comfortable. Upon investigation, it is obvious this is one for the vet. She hoof tests positive close to the apex of the frog and in the area of the sole. I am well versed on digging for abscesses, but I know my limits. I will venture into the white line, but not the sole, and not anywhere near the coffin bone. I call the vet.
We have a wonderful vet! Cary Hills and Claire Smith are from Sound Equine Veterinary Clinic. They are amazing and have come to love the donkeys. Cary arrives and he begins the daunting search for the abscess. I notice that AJ is unusually uncomfortable. Most abscesses come on slow and are not as acute. Her lameness was very sudden, literally overnight. Cary finds the abscess and there is a huge hiss and a lot of drainage. We both notice something unusual, but we remain silent: the drainage is more like serum; a watery yellow color. My mind takes note. My experience with Cary is that after he drains an abscess and we pack it, there is relief within hours.
3 days pass. AJ shows no signs of relief. AJ is on pain relievers.I have been soaking with Epsom’s 3x per day (controversial) flushing, packing, massaging, wrapping her leg, etc………………..we have gone the course. On the 4th day AJ is losing condition. I can see she is overcome by the stress of it all. She has her first episode of colic. We are heading down the rabbit hole. We need immediate pain relief, fluids and most likely, anti-biotics and other supportive therapy. She is too old to endure a long course of discomfort.
AJ arrives at the Sound Equine Veterinary Hospital. The rains have arrived. The mornings are dark, as are the nights. My heart is dark. I fret. Donkeys don’t like to be away from home. I have taken her favorite miniature donkey to keep her company. Shasta is immortal and loves being at the veterinary clinic where she gets 24 hour attention and is given every conceivable treat known to the equine world. The vets begin an extensive process of care. X-rays show an abscess gone rogue: the tract makes an full circle around the coffin bone threatening the bone integrity. She has slow gut responses and seems depressed. They go deeper into the abscess seeking more drainage. No luck. Anti-biotic infusions are directed into the vein of the leg with the abscess. She is tubed and treated for colic. This routine will continue off and on for days. Finally, on day 3, Dr. Claire Smith suggests maggot therapy. Maggot therapy? It is explained to me that maggots are pushed into the tract of the abscess and left until they consume all the necrotic tissue. Maggots thrive on dead tissue and they adore bacteria. Sounds fantastic:non-invasive, natural, Mother Nature’s remedy.
I visit AJ every other day (the clinic is 1 hour away from the ranch) for nearly 2 weeks. Each time I enter her stall she turns and greets me and asks me for a tummy rub. We talk. I scratch. She turns her liquid, soft eyes to mine. We meet here in a timeless moment. We know. A bond is forged unlike any bond I have ever had with an equine. She is the epitome of everything good in this world. The vets shake their heads, “There is nothing she won’t let us do. She is an amazing patient”. AJ continues to accept, surrender and live in the moment. She is not fighting for her life, she is easing into each moment with a grace and bravery I have never witnessed before. AJ is not resigned, she is fully engaged and participating in her healing journey.
Maggot therapy is taking more than a week as the maggots continue to thrive and expand. This indicates there is more and more dead tissue for them to eat and enjoy. We cannot stop therapy now until the maggots die and fall out. AJ continues to be hospitalized and continues to be patient and accommodating. The call finally arrives: the maggots are falling out……….all 1000 of them! AJ is more comfortable and she is eating well. She is beginning to heal. I am ecstatic! She is coming home!
7 months later, to this date, AJ continues to heal. Home therapy has been extensive, yet I cannot think of anything else in this world I would rather be doing. Caring for her is an honor, a privilege, a great gift. She has never once complained. I change her foot bandages, do betadine soaks, clean her feet and wrap them so she can go out to graze. I do all of this without a halter, without a bribe, without anything, but a glance of knowing between us. We both know, she is one of those rare souls that truly believes in the absolute good of humanity. She is a teacher, friend and sister to me. May I live life with such grace, integrity and bravery as this wonderful Mammoth donkey.
Gratitude to the owners of the ranch for providing the financial support to keep AJ with us. Special gratitude to our determined and creative vets. Finally, all my love to AJ and the those wonderful maggots!