My quest to help Norma Jean find her happy again.

As many of you know, Norma Jean is my 30 year-old Jenny.  For most of her life, she has been a gracious, quiet, honest, peaceful and happy donkey who loved her two Shetlands, Dodger and Slick.

And as most of you know, Dodger and Slick have both passed in the last few years… much to the utter devastation of Norma Jean.

Just like a heart-crushed human, Norma turned grey almost overnight after Dodger passed.  I think that although Slick was her true best friend, when Slick passed, she still had Dodger.  But when Dodger passed, Norma was dying of loneliness.  I’m sure of it.

Norma had spent 28 of her 30 years in the company of two particular ponies.

Now she was alone.  On a ranch full of equines, Norma was still alone.

Here is Norma Jean when she was only 3. She is touching noses with yearling, Gwendolyn. Slick is behind Gwen.

Norma’s best friends for almost 28 years, Slick and Dodger.


After Dodger’s passing, I tried everything I could to raise Norma’s spirits.  Nothing worked.  Norma was almost catatonic.  I mean, she would eat, but that was it.  She no longer used her voice, she hardly moved and she didn’t even try to buddy up with any other equines.  I even adopted two more donkeys and another pony.

It didn’t matter…

Norma was turning feeble almost overnight.  She certainly wasn’t herself anymore.

I felt she was giving up.

She missed these two…desperately


I hoped the move back to Grass Valley might help.

But it didn’t.

Norma continued to go downhill.  There wasn’t anything medically wrong with her, but she looked terrible.

And then she choked – twice.

As most of you know, choke on an older equine is a very bad sign – often the beginning of the end.

I just couldn’t bear it.

Norma was just going through the motions… and going bald!


The barn suites were open.

And although Norma hated being in the barn and didn’t need to be in the barn, I figured she might have less opportunity to choke if I controlled everything that she ingested.  And I thought maybe I could draw her out of her sadness.  Maybe I could sweet talk her.

So, I made the decision to take away her freedom and move her into the barn.

Norma came into the barn, kicking and screaming.  Literally… I had to drag her.

Life isn’t so bad in the barn… she gets lots of food and lots of love.


After a few weeks, Norma decided that she kinda liked her new digs.  Although not outwardly happy, she didn’t try to rush the gates or bite me anymore.  The food was good and constant, she got lots of extra kisses, she had her own personal fan, and she could eat in peace – no choke.

Norma was resigned, but she wasn’t happy.

In fact, she was going bald.

Norma surveys her new shavings and her fans.


The vets came out and no tests proved anything conclusive.   Ugh.

I asked the vets what harm would it be to treat her for a few things like IR, allergies, pain since what harm could it really do for a very depressed 30 year old donkey who had choked twice.

They all agreed to try several helping medications to see if she could feel better.

Even the vets could see that Norma was fading…

Norma is starting to walk all around the ranch and live again! Here she is, eating new oak leaves.

Norma takes tours of the ranch… (there is no more grass so it is OK to let her roam).


Well, there is something to be said for constant attention… whether that is love and tenderness mixed with medications… whatever it is… Norma is coming back!

For the last few weeks, she has started to come alive!  Norma has an opinion, likes to engage, follows me around and has taken to strolls around the ranch!

In fact, I’ve come to trust her to come and go as she pleases.   I leave the barn gate open. Her normal path has her visit all of the other horses from a safe distance, nibble wherever she can and rub on her favorite trees.

She has ventured into my garden…

Norma definitely has a circuit that she travels. I think she likes being safe. When she was younger she was much more tough. Now, she has no intimidation.

I’m watching her from my office. She takes advantage of the little patch of green under the new tree.


I never thought I would miss a bray… but I have missed Norma’s bray.  The silence only added to my fear that she was leaving us.

But today, our girl brayed and ran to the barn when she saw me.  She demanded food, brushing and fly spray.

Atta girl!

Thank you, donkgods.

I know that she is an elderly donkey.  I know that her life will probably not be longer than mine.  But at least, now, she seems to actually be enjoying her life – which is wonderful!

From now on, Norma owns the barn… just like Gwen and MT before her.

The barn is where my favorite, old girlfriends reside.

Here she is, settled in front of. her big fan.

With the gate open, she comes and goes… and I can see life in her eyes again! Thank donkgods.

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3 comments have been posted...

  1. Julia S

    I love this; thank you Dawn for the photo story of Norma Jean’s recovery from the loss of her beloved Dodger and Slick; you are a great mom to all your animals.

  2. Joan McCormick

    What a wonderful update on Norma Jean! I love your stories!! I’ve followed you for so long and your writing is so well done it makes me feel like I’m right there with you. Hug Norma Jean for me!!????~Joni

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