Bad weather in April and May meant that we had to put off the planned dental treatment for Matilde, as we needed warm dry weather. Today we finally had the conditions necessary to work on her teeth. Matilde donkey was not impressed with being shut in the stable from 5 a.m. and not eating for four hours before her sedative, but I also locked Rubí in there to keep her company, as they are inseparable friends. Rubí was not very pleased to go without food either!
Equine vet Cristina arrived at 9 a.m. to do the dental work and I released Rubí from the stable to eat – still within sight of Matilde – to reassure her. And of course, as head of the donkey family, Rubí knew she was supervising the operation.
The main problem with Matilde was overgrown teeth that needed grinding down. A donkey’s jaws masticate forage (here a straw and alfalfa mix) with a horizontal motion which might be compared with mill-stones grinding corn to make flour.
An overgrown tooth makes it hard for the donkey to process the forage and it leads to weight-loss. That is how Cristina diagnosed the visually underweight Matilde in December when we were addressing diet and health issues. Today the dental problem was finally sorted out. Rubí will also need similar dental treatment but her case was less urgent than Matilde.
Here is a photo sequence of the dental work. Cristina is very good at explaining the process whenever she is working with the donkeys and recognizes that successful work with animals also involves the animals’ keeper – who needs to be fully informed and engaged with the requirements of the animals. Great work, Cristina, thank you!
After the dental work, with Matilde still sedated, I took advantage of the situation to give her rear hooves a good clean, as she does not normally like her rear legs being picked up and can kick sideways in a very dangerous manner! After the treatment Matilde could not eat for another couple of hours, so we had a lot of complaining noises from her, and Aitana added to the general panic by braying to be with her mother.
Aitana cannot be separated from Matilde for more than a few minutes before she gets insecure. I have usually interpreted this behaviour as an attachment issue. As a young foal, Aitana was often pushed away by Matilde when she wanted to take milk and I had to intervene and enable the process! A million years ago, when I was a student at Goldsmiths College, London, I studied John Bowlby’s attachment theory and found it fascinating. You may ask how we can apply human attachment issues to donkeys? The fact is that Bowlby’s first observations were directed to the behaviour of ducks and ducklings, so it was animal behaviour that first informed his attachment theory.
Anyway, I digress. We have four different donkeys with four distinct sets of needs here, and it is both fascinating and hard work meeting those needs! This year marks the twelfth year since I bought Matilde and Rubí – not knowing both of them were pregnant – and I ended up with Morris and Aitana too! So I adjusted to living with a herd… or more accurately, a family. I think of life with donkeys as family life.
Life with donkeys always provides new and surprising moments. As I explained to vet Cristina during the dental work this morning, an amazing thing happened yesterday. I was cleaning out the stable and listening to an old Leonard Cohen favourite on my phone: “Hallelujah” (it’s on You Tube) and Cohen’s voice is very deep bass. Suddenly the donkeys were surrounding me, trying to get close to the source of the sound, the phone in my pocket playing the Leonard Cohen song, and they were listening intently. Morris began braying and Aitana and Matilde joined in. Rubí – who has functional braying issues! – made a few bray-barking attempts but was equally excited. Here is the song. There are various versions on You Tube (including the Shrek version – donkey alert!) but this live recording in London 2009 is my favourite. Enjoy it and bray along if you like!
So there we are. Have a great weekend. If you are on Twitter, I am helping the Ukraine war effort with a parody account, satirizing the Russian press spokesman Dmitry Peskov, which is my contribution to the information war (as an ex-RAF person who helped stand up against Russia in the cold war). Retweeted by Ukrainians, Russians, Latvians, Finns, Swedes… so I must be doing something right… Take a look! It’s one comedy account among many, related to the events in Ukraine. We cannot avoid the tragedy, sure; but a good way to help demolish Putin and his mafia is through comedy. Fascists hate comedy!