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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI’s guard donkey, Bonnie, delivers Clyde

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KINGSTON, R.I. -- July 28, 2004 -- His ears are oversized and initially his legs were wobbly. But to his mother, Bonnie, the University of Rhode Island’s official guard donkey, he’s beautiful. Bonnie was up late Monday night, July 26, giving birth to her son whom URI quickly dubbed Clyde.

"Clyde was up and moving around within an hour of birth. Within 24 hours, he had Bonnie chasing after him trying to keep him out of trouble, says Katherine Petersson, a lecturer in URI’s Fisheries, Animal, and Veterinary Science Department.

Clyde’s "flock mates" –15 ewes, 2 rams, and 9 lambs sheep --are more than a bit curious about his arrival, but at this point Bonnie is keeping all interested members of the sheep flock at what she deems to be a safe distance.

Clyde and Bonnie are housed at the University’s Peckham Farm. URI uses the farm and its animals for hands-on teaching of its animal science students.

Protecting the sheep is his mother’s number one job. Last October, dogs discovered a way to bypass an electric fence and enter the pasture. They killed one sheep and seriously harmed six others, one so badly that it had to euthanized. Of the 19 sheep in the pasture at the time, 18 sustained multiple puncture wounds.

Petersson found Bonnie while browsing the Internet in search of a way to protect
the flock. She discovered that The Rosefield, a farm, located just outside Pittsburgh, Pa. trains and sells guardian donkeys. URI purchased the 7-year-old jenny last December for $700. It was a two-for-one special, since Bonnie was pregnant.

Although all donkeys have a herding instinct and a natural aversion to things canine, not all of them make good guardians. The sheep and the donkey must accept one another.

Bonnie quickly established the pecking order. She was the boss. After swishing
her tail, pinning back her not-so-petite ears, and raising a threatening leg, the sheep became gentle as lambs. "She’s kinda like a bossy sibling, with teeth," explains Petersson.

Bonnie has proven her weight in hay. If a sheep strays, Bonnie will herd it back to the flock. When a coyote approached last March, Bonnie loudly brayed and stomped. Not wanting to upset the status quo, the coyote hightailed it.

While Bonnie has soft eyes and a quiet demeanor, she will attack an intruding canine. Rising on her hind legs, she can strike it with her front feet and then swing around and land blows with her back feet. The blows can injure or kill.

When a horse show was held on the farm grounds this summer, Bonnie quickly herded all the sheep into the barn, blocking a couple of frisky lambs from returning to the pasture. Unfamiliar with horses, Bonnie ventured outside the barn to watch the gathering. Once convinced that they meant no harm to her charges, Bonnie allowed her flock back into the pasture.

Bonnie continues to be a good mother hen while tending to her newborn. Bonnie walks Clyde down the fence line, showing him the territory.

Clyde may become a guard donkey some day, but right now he’s just going to be an added attraction to the barnyard.

Bonnie will be getting help soon, however. URI has purchased another female guard donkey from the Pennsylvania farm. When that jenny arrives next month, URI will be able to divide the flock into different pastures.

Any canine with mutton on its mind would have to be a jackass to attempt anything!

URI Photo by Katherine Petersson.