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Phoenix Forward

Gone to the donkeys

Blair Smith and his donkey

He calls them by name: Moose and Ginger, Chief and Junior, Clementine and Goldie, Ranger and Jasper, Calamity Jane, Josie, Tumbleweed, Rosie, and Apache.

To be sure, Blair Smith, the dean and executive director of the College of Information Systems and Technology for University of Phoenix, loves his donkeys.

“They are permanent members of our family,” Smith says. “The biggest misconception of donkeys is that that they are stubborn and they are stupid — and it’s quite the opposite. They are smart and very cautious. Donkeys have really nice personalities.”

Smith’s love of donkeys began about 20 years ago, after he and his wife Claudia moved out of the suburbs and into the country in Larkspur, Colo. Claudia wanted some farm animals, so they started by purchasing a goat, but soon after learned of two burros (the Spanish word for donkeys) that needed new homes. “We bought a pair of burros for $50,” Smith says.

Donkeys require patience and compassion, and these are the same qualities I see in Blair as a teacher.

Fast forward two decades and Smith and his wife now own 13 donkeys that they have rescued from numerous desperate situations. Most recently, Smith and his wife drove from Colorado to Texas to rescue three donkeys that would have been destroyed. One of them was Apache, a wild donkey that was first taken in and trained by Lee Fifield, owner of the Double Dot Ranch and Donkey Resort in Kerrville, Texas.

“Apache was totally wild, and had never been touched by a human being,” Fifield says. “Blair came and took him to Colorado and took over his training, and he’s doing great.” Fifield calls Smith “the great communicator,” and says that’s as important with his herd as it is in his profession.

“Donkeys require patience and compassion, and these are the same qualities I see in Blair as a teacher,” she says. “He spends time and money on those animals and it shows. All of his donkeys love him.”

Caring for donkeys is a labor of love for Smith and his wife. They feed them hay and grain daily. Smith trims their hooves. He heats their water in the winter. He spends time with them and has introduced them to his grandchildren.

About five years ago, after learning that he needed to lose weight for health reasons, Smith’s wife signed him up for pack burro racing, a sport indigenous to Colorado. According to the Western Pack Burro Association, the sport originated in the 19th century when prospectors used burros to carry supplies through the Rocky Mountains. Miners had to race back to town with their burros to stake their claims. In today’s four- to 29-mile races, burros run with their handlers but are not ridden, so it is good exercise for both the donkeys and their companions. Plus, according to Smith, “Burros like having a job.”

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