Some people may be offended thinking that domesticated donkeys experience the same emotions that humans do. But there is evidence that donkeys grieve when they are separated from a companion. Donkeys form strong social bonds with other donkeys which may extend to other animals. The Donkey Sanctuary notes that males (jacks) and females (jennys) often form pair bonds.
Perhaps the grief of donkeys was best described by children’s book author Marguerite Henry. She lived with a small menagerie that at one time included a donkey and the famous pony Misty of Chincoteague. Misty was a palomino pinto Chincoteague pony mare. Misty had to be sent back to Chincoteague for breeding but the donkey bonded had bonded to her. For the rest of that donkey’s life, he would bray frantically at any palomino equine that he saw, whether it was pinto-colored or not.
Keeping the Donkey Busy
A grieving donkey should ideally be kept busy in order to maintain good emotional and physical health. Donkeys need exercise in order to burn off the calories they consume and avoid obesity-related problems like laminitis. Walking the donkey or leading the donkey from horseback gets the donkey moving. If the donkey is pacing or weaving constantly, just walk the donkey for short distances.
Donkeys are herd animals and should not be left alone. Donkeys seek companionship because there is safety in numbers. Ideally, a donkey needs another companion in order to get over losing a friend or long-time companion. This does not have to be another donkey. Donkeys have been known to bond with many other species, including people. Expose your donkey to new potential friends under close supervision and see if the donkey accepts the new companion.
Getting a New Foal
Donkey dams seem to grieve when their foals die. They may refuse to eat or leave the spot where they last saw their offspring. If the jenny is still full of milk, getting another foal will help alleviate physical pain and give the jenny a chance to bond with an adopted foal. Contact local vets, farriers and animal rescue groups to see if they have an orphaned donkey, mule, pony or horse foal.
If getting a new foal is not possible, don’t give up. The donkey still needs companionship. A quiet pony or sheep could also serve to help. The Donkey Sanctuary also recommends letting donkeys see the bodies of their dead foals or companions. This seems to calm the donkey down but just why is unknown.