Jen-Jen is also an ass – a Long Ear donkey who spent the first 20 years of her life in a pasture guarding sheep.
She was on the job everyday, all day, eating the lush grass in the pasture and protecting her charges from predators.
Sadly, no one was watching out for Jen-Jen – no one was trimming her hooves or paying attention to what she ate. She grazed at will and no one cared that she got fatter and fatter. Donkeys are desert animals and can’t process the high-sugar content grass that grows in California pastures.
And no one paid attention as her untrimmed hooves grew longer and longer until she could no longer walk. When her rescuers found her she was 200 pounds overweight and herding sheep on her knees.
Jen-Jen was sent to Doodleton Ranch on Morgan Territory Road, a satellite rescue ranch for the Long Ears Institute in Healdsburg, Calif., to learn to trust people and to walk again.
“We spent hours and hours just running our hands over her body,” said Yvonne Backman, a volunteer at the ranch. “We could feel her tense up. Then she finally began to relax.”
Today, a trim and healthy Jen-Jen has found a forever-home with Doodleton Ranch owner Katherine Palau, a retired teacher and docent at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum.
Palau has always had a love affair with animals. “My best friends as a child were the neighborhood dogs that I would take for walks.”
She spent her childhood on the east coast riding horses, but says she has always loved donkeys.
“About seven years ago, I got it into my head that I wanted one,” she explained. “Not really sure what sparked that thought.”
She began to look for a ranch big enough for the animals she loved with room for a summer camp where she could work with kids in a non-traditional educational setting.
Four years ago, she bought the 20 acres that would immediately become a Jen-Jen’s forever home. Jen-Jen was soon joined by other rescued critters who found Palau’s ranch a safe stop at the end of a long road of abuse and neglect. Most of those have moved on to their forever homes, but not all.
Jen-Jen shares the ranch with two other Long Ears – four-year-old Gizmo and white-faced Arizona, who came to be “socialized” and stayed.
But, Doodleton isn’t just for donkeys. Two goats visit with Jen-Jen over the fence – the always hungry Anton and Little Buddy. Anton came to Doodleton when he got too big for the Children’s Petting Zoo at Fairyland and Little Buddy was on his way to someone’s dinner table – he still had the butcher’s tag in his ear.
For Anton, nothing is off limits including this reporter’s notebook. Gregarious and self assured, he made a quick snack of my last city council meeting notes.
“He has a little trouble with boundaries,” explained Palau with a laugh.
Every summer, Palau, the animals and a bunch of kids all come together for the Doodleton Ranch day camps – week-long sessions where the kids learn about science with hands-on activities. They work with Palau on animal training, go hiking in Mt. Diablo State Park which borders Doodleton, do art projects, play games and tell stories.
For teens and adults that want to know why donkeys are so stubborn – or smart – Palau will have a morning class, “So You Want to Be a Smart Ass?” on May 5.
For more information on the camps and classes see Doodleton Ranch on Facebook, or email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (510) 207-7467.