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Ruth was a gift - to us and to the many people who’ve visited our farm over the past two years. She defended our property, having an altercation with a wild boar only three months after her arrival. Since that night, we’ve never seen another wild hog on our land. She welcomed our guests warmly, allowing children and adults to love on her and pet her, often feeding her treats of apples or carrots, or her absolute favorite: peanut butter filled pretzels. Ruth was often the face of our farm, from our profile pic of her with Houston and me to the countless selfies taken by guests.

But Ruth’s life wasn’t always like this. The man who rescued her shared with us that she’d been on property where the owner rarely visited. Some of the animals had died and Ruth was almost starved to death when he took her home and rehabilitated her. She looked healthy and well-loved when she came to our farm a year later.

Two weeks ago, she was treated for a high fever and nosebleed. We continued the treatment the veterinarian had begun. She appeared to be improving, or at least not getting worse. But then last Friday her head was hanging even lower than it had the previous week. She had scratched her face so that fresh blood trailed down to her nose. Still, she didn’t have a fever and I knew we were going to be talking with the vet again on Monday. She even ate out of my hand.

When I saw that she wasn’t shying away from me, something she had been doing more frequently, I thought it was a good time to clean her up since a family with children would be arriving soon. Surprisingly, Ruth seemed to lean into me and let me gently wipe her face, even though it must have been uncomfortable. I took a photo of her, Daphne, our other donkey and Samson, our Great Pyrenees.

About 4:30 P.M., when I was finishing up chores for the day, I heard loud braying and looked up through the woods to see Daphne running quickly toward an area behind one of the tents. My heart sank. I walked, wanting to know, but also dreading what I would find. I scanned the area, looking for our sweet girl, and at first didn’t see her. Through the trees, though, I spied what looked like her white underbelly on the ground. Samson was close by, but Daphne had run off.

When I reached Ruth, I knelt beside her. Her head lifted for a brief second. There was another slight movement, and then she was gone. I don’t know if donkeys, like humans, can still hear after their hearts stop beating, but if she could, she heard me telling her how much I loved her and that she was the best donkey ever. And she heard me thanking God for her presence on our farm.

As humans, Houston and I are heartsick. We can only imagine how Daphne must be grieving. Donkeys, as we’ve learned, are herd animals and don’t do well on their own. While we know we can never replace Ruth, we hope to be getting another donkey companion for Daphne within the next week. We’re grateful for Ruth’s legacy. And as awful as Friday was, I know the precious moments I had with her that day were just another one of her gifts.

This piece first appeared in Sherry’s column, Finding Myself in a Small Town, in the December 18, 2021 edition of the Corsicana Daily Sun.

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