J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 5-16-11 | TheFencePost.com

J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 5-16-11

J.C. Mattingly Moffat, Colo.

My first long ears came from a neighbor who offered to let me borrow his donkey, Jerusalem, while he went on vacation. This neighbor had obviously studied Tom Sawyer’s strategy for getting his friends to whitewash the fence for him. “Borrowing the donkey” made it seem like I was getting a benefit, which I didn’t immediately calculate would include feeding the donkey.

But it was worth it, as Jerusalem provided several unexpected services. One day after milking the goats and straining the milk, I left the bucket near the fence while throwing in a bit of hay. Jerusalem leaned over to lick the bucket clean. Thereafter, he showed up at milking time, and brayed dolorously until I let him clean the bucket. After a few days, I left a spot of milk for him and he always honked a lengthy thanks.

While out in the pasture with the small band of sheep and goats we had at the time, Jerusalem proved an able body guard against dogs and coyotes, chasing them off with his ears laid back flat against his withers. One particular coyote didn’t take Jerusalem seriously until he nearly took a chunk out of the coyote’s rear. I’d never seen such fear in the eyes of a coyote.

On another occasion, an especially sassy pair of wild dogs thought they could play with Jerusalem, and didn’t live to regret it.

Then, one Sunday afternoon some friends came out with their two energetic, registered Labradors. It’s unfortunately common for people from town to think that when they visit a farm, they can bring their dogs and let them run free.

We warned our friends about Jerusalem, but they laughed off the possibility of a donkey posing a threat to their fine canines. The Labs took off like escaped convicts, frolicking through the pasture. Though the Labs were some distance from the flock, and really weren’t posing an immediate threat, Jerusalem adhered to Dick Cheney’s One Percent Doctrine: if there’s a one percent chance of a attack, a 100 percent of measures must be taken to prevent it.

Jerusalem took off after the Labs, who thought he’d come to play.


Jerusalem lowered his head, flattened his ears, and charged the Labs with his teeth bared, eyes wild. For good measure, he honked at the hounds like a disturbed banshee roaming the Mongolian plains.

The Labs yelped as they scattered in two directions, and after circling and dodging for a spell, they dashed back to their masters, panting, looking up with eyes that expressed immense gratitude for the safety of the corral rails.

For the remainder of their visit, the Labs were uncharacteristically contrite and reserved, causing our friends to suggest that Jerusalem had a serious future in dog obedience.

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