An abused animal gets a new life.
Raised in captivity by a man who could not care for the animals he hoarded, one donkey was left in shocking condition. When McDougall (Natural Born Heroes: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance, 2015, etc.) first saw the animal, he could hardly believe his eyes: Penned in a cramped stall, mired knee-deep in manure, it had hooves so neglected and overgrown that it could hardly walk. “His muscles were withered,” writes the author, “his body was sagging and soft, his trust was severely damaged if not altogether lost.” McDougall agreed to take the donkey—renamed Sherman—to his home in rural Pennsylvania, but he had little hope that the animal would live. Equines need to walk in order for their intestines to digest food; if they are hobbled, McDougall learned, “waste matter blocks their guts until the animal is torn apart from the inside.” Fortunately for Sherman, the author was surrounded by caring neighbors who swooped in to help. One amateur horseman sawed off Sherman’s excess hooves; his wife, who raised donkeys, horses, a goat, and a pig, sheered away matted fur and gave the animal a thorough shampoo. She also advised that the donkey needed to have a job—a sense of purpose. For McDougall, that had to involve movement, which he believed was “big medicine; it’s the signal to every cell in our bodies that no matter what kind of damage we’ve suffered, we’re ready to rebuild and move away from death and back toward life.” Like humans, the author discovered, animals “are hungry for a challenge.” Against great odds, he decided to train Sherman to enter a world championship burro race. Sherman’s transformation from dying donkey to confident runner involved a circle of family, friends, neighbors, and a few feisty donkeys, each of whom McDougall portrays in affectionate, vivid detail. For several of them, suffering from their own emotional pain and trauma, Sherman proved a source of solace and support.
A charming tale of a resilient donkey and a community’s love.