Updated 10 May 2013

Life, death and a donkey

In the bigger scheme of things, how important can the death of one donkey be? A lot more than you think, says Susan Erasmus.

It was ten past six on a Friday afternoon a few weeks ago as I was preparing to leave work when the e-mail came through. My adopted donkey, Spokie, had died at the Donkey Sanctuary in McGregor. They had tried to treat her for a bowel obstruction, but the vet finally had to euthanase her. I felt as if someone had kicked me in the gut. She was such a kind, sweet animal, despite the horrendous life she had before coming to the sanctuary. (Read more on Spokie's story here).

A donkey? Why a donkey? Isn't there enough pain and suffering in the world, what with wars and famines and the Guptas that we shouldn't waste our time and energy on a donkey?

Good question. But I actually don't see it as a waste of time. In fact, I think animals can teach us a huge amount about what it means to be human and humane. Real human character can always be seen in how people treat those over whom they have total power. How people treat animals, children, and even those reporting to them at work, shows you who they really are.

Beasts of burden

And let's face it, over the centuries, donkeys more than most other animals, have been patient and maltreated beasts of burden. The stories of the donkeys at the sanctuary are enough to make you weep – from starvation to abandonment next to a highway to working endless hours in the boiling sun without adequate food or water.

But they are by no means the only animals who have suffered at the hands of humans. Shocking images aired on Wednesday on the internet showed people sitting on the back of a tiger cub strapped down to a table.

I am not naïve. I know people do revolting things to other people, so there's no reason to assume they would spare animals. But I can't help wondering what the man thought who was riding on the strapped-down tiger cub. Did he feel powerful, adventurous, brave? That's truly pathetic. All he revealed is a complete lack of respect for himself, not to speak of the tiger cub. Maybe that's just my perspective.

More about Spokie
Back to Spokie. The remarkable thing about this donkey, and the reason I decided to adopt her, was that she managed, after a lifetime of deprivation, to retain a calm kindness. She was not aggressive and in fact always ran out to greet me when I visited. I am under no illusion that she recognised me in particular – she just liked people. Which in itself was remarkable after what they had done to her.

We humans have a tendency to pass on the pain others have inflicted on us. It takes real strength of character to break that pattern.

Spokie played a big role in the educational programmes of the sanctuary and helped to teach many children self-respect by means of learning respect for an animal.

And that's why her death was such a sad loss. If you work in a newsroom, few things manage to penetrate your tough exterior. But amid images of death and destruction and worldwide mayhem on four TV screens in the office, I wept for my donkey.

And that's what life is about in the end, I suppose: the things and the people we allow into our inner circle, and the difference they make to us and the difference we choose to make to them. The world at large is so overwhelming, it's just easier and more effective to concentrate your energy on what's around you. In short, you do what you can, with what you have, where you are. That is enough.

RIP Spokie. I am happy that you spent your last three-and-a-half years in comfort surrounded by kindness. You deserved it.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, May 2013)

P.S. The Donkey Sanctuary is hosting a fabulous Book Fair on the weekend of 24 – 26 May.
Visit Eseltjiesrus on Facebook.

Susan Erasmus is a freelance writer for Health24.


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2013-02-09 07:27



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