How five lovable donkeys got a second chance at life

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Levi (left) was so excited when Diesel walked into the Perry's barn that they started to nuzzle each other affectionately.

Outside a barn in Southold, a photographer is trying to take a snapshot of four-legged friends Buddy, Levi, Diesel, Pop E. and Lil E. Putia, but it’s nearly impossible to get them to stand still.

When Buddy gets in place, Levi walks away, and when Levi gets in line, Pop E. gets distracted and so on and so on.

Well, what do you expect from a bunch of jackasses?

The five donkeys, four of which were slated for slaughter, now belong to a group of North Fork women who, tongue-in-cheek, call themselves the “East End Ass Whisperers” or EEAW. (When said aloud it rhymes with the sound a donkey makes.)

It all started when Samantha Perry of Southold, a longtime horse owner and member of the East End Livestock and Horseman’s Association, saw a picture of now 2-year-old Levi on Facebook in spring 2010.

Levi had been purchased by a broker who sells donkeys to slaughterhouses in Canada, from which their meat is then most likely sold to zoos. A rescue group put his picture on the Internet in the hope that someone would adopt him.

“I got Levi from what they call a kill pen in Pennsylvania,” Ms. Perry said. “I saw his face and just fell in love with him.”

That inspired her friend, Cathy Springer of Aquebogue, who brought Lil E. Putia home on Memorial Day weekend 2010, unbeknownst to her husband. Her second burro, Pop E., soon followed. She estimates both are about 2 to 3 years old.

Bernadette Deerkoski and her daughter, Emily, of Mattituck later adopted Diesel, the only one of the bunch who had not been purchased to sell to a slaughterhouse. At 15 months old, he is also the youngest of the group.

The group then convinced — or as their friend Debbie Miller of Mattituck says, harassed — Ms. Miller to adopt 3-year-old Buddy.

The five donkeys appear frequently in North Fork parades and events and even led the Palm Sunday procession at St. Patrick Church in Southold this year. Their owners also raise funds for the East End Livestock and Horseman’s Association, of which they are all members. Sometimes they’ll bring a kissing booth to fairs and encourage people to “kiss my ass” for $1. The money is then donated to the association.

The women frequently bring the donkeys together at the Deerkoski farm on Elijahs Lane in Mattituck for what they jokingly call an “ass-embly.”

“They run, They roll. They do donkey things,” Bernadette Deerkoski said.

As pack animals, it’s quite a scene to see the quintet play together. When Diesel entered Ms. Perry’s barn one recent afternoon, he ran right up to his friend Levi and began nuzzling his neck.

They’ll do the same to humans.

“They’re very different than a horse,” Ms. Springer said. “They’re more affectionate.”

“They think more than a horse,” Ms. Perry added.

Aside from veterinarian bills, caring for a donkey is not as expensive as one might think — provided the owner already has barn space. Some donkeys eat only two bales of hay a week.
“They’re very easy keepers,” Bernadette Deerkoski said. “They eat next to nothing.”

Ms. Perry estimated it costs between $500 and $1,000 a year to feed a single animal. The five donkeys, all miniature Sicilian burros, weigh about 200 pounds each and can live until their 40s.

The women say the cost of raising the donkeys is outweighed by the joy the animals have brought them.

“They make you laugh every day,” Ms. Perry said.

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