DIXIE – Of Mules and Men

As many of you are aware, mules are hybrid animals; they are the result of the breeding of a donkey with a horse.  This blending produces exceptional creatures: very intelligent, possessed of extraordinary stamina,  awesome strength and vibrant personalities.  At the same time, their memories are unusually strong, especially with regard to negative experiences.

Here at the DSC, over the years, every mule but one (Reno)  has come  to us from backgrounds of neglect,  misunderstanding and rough treatment..  We have seen too often that mules are bred as an experiment. ” What will happen if we breed our donkey with a horse?”  And what happens is a  foal who  is  alert and possessed from the first with a degree of sensitivity that requires caring, consistent treatment, in a positive atmsophere where there is an absense of  violent responses.  Under such conditions, mules can become exceptional companions, completely devoted to their caregivers.  When those conditions do not obtain, however, it is almost certain that the foal will become fearful, unable to trust humans and always on guard.  The greatest mistake regarding the training of a mule is to approach with the intention of ‘breaking’ its spirit. 

Our newest arrival, Dixie, is a Miniature mule, sired probably by a  pony and a Miniature donkey and she is terrified of harsh sounds, unexpected movements and all humans.  Added to this emotional turmoil is the fact that her hooves had grown for years and years without being trimmed.  They were so long that they curled like horns and Dixie was forced to walk on the sides of her feet.

Since her arrival last week, our farrier, Chris Gerber,  has removed these painful hooves with great skill and patience.  The process has been dangerous: Dixie can be wild with fear.  As a result of these operations, she is able to stand almost normally, now.  We are still very cautious about her future, however, because one foot and leg had been twisted long term  in a debilitating  manner  in her efforts to compensate.  Radiographs will reveal whether the damage is permanent and we think that, in the next few days, Dixie will be able to tolerate without extrene panic this medical procedure.

So there it is, yet another occasion when we are so grateful to have been able to step in and bring relief to a helpless creature’s life.  Dixie has a fine spirit and we will treat her always with the gentleness that she deserves.  Perhaps with time and patience she will learn to forgive humans a little bit but one thing is certain: Dixie will never forget.

Sandra Pady, Founder



     Come mid-February, mild sensations of seasonal restlessness begin to make themselves felt around the Sanctuary Farm.  Although the pleasures of winter can still be enjoyed, at this time of year the seemingly, never-ending teeter totter of weather conditions – snow – melt – freeze – ice – melt – snow – shapes every  activity.  
     For their part, the donkeys experience frustrations with these conditions, too. Their thick winter coats serve them well when the weather is frigid, but temperatures above freezing are, literally, irritating.  At those times, the donkeys will rub against anything that is at hand. Their body language seems to scream out, “I am itchy!!” and whenever a person is available to give a good, long scratch, the grunts of satisfaction are as expressive as any words.
     In contrast, on the up side of this teeter totter  there are the sunny, cold, windless days when groups of donkeys will pick their way through the snow to the lee of the buildings in order to bask in the winter sunshine, with coats fluffed, soaking in the warmth. They will stand for hours like this until the clouds return or the wind picks up. Then, at an unspoken signal, all will begin to move  carefully along the trodden path, back to shelter.
     At the Sanctuary each day is different and yet the same, with essential chores that never vary.  Come February, though, the weather-complicated  routines  begin to weigh heavily.  When this happens, we know that  the time has arrived  to turn our musings  to the warmer months and, with them, the resumption of Open Days. Thoughts of the infectious enthusiasm of our visitors will  help enormously during the next few weeks  to keep our end of the teeter totter in the air………..and whenever it starts to drop, we will know it’s time to scratch a donkey  and give/receive a little joy.
Sandra Pady, Founder