Students of Oak Park and their unusual pets

Donkey and snake owners receive affection from their pets just like dog and cat owners

Mama the donkey grazes in front of her home. (Photo Courtesy of Schafer Aldrich)

Photo Courtesy of Schafer Aldrich

Mama the donkey grazes in front of her home. (Photo Courtesy of Schafer Aldrich)

By Julianne Koch and Ava Harris

Freshman Schafer Aldrich walks across the vast 20-acre pasture of his backyard, tasked with completing one of his weekly chores. However, this is not a common chore like taking out the trash or doing the laundry. Aldrich is tasked with taking care of his donkey, Mama. Every few days, he comes out to feed Mama or replace the water in her trough.

As soon as Aldrich is in Mama’s sight, she approaches him, full of affection. The soft fur on Mama’s head rubs against him as a way of greeting Aldrich. She enjoys the contact.

As of February 2021, 53% of U.S. households own dogs while 35.7% of U.S. households own cats. They are the two most common pets in America. These animals are so common because they are known for sharing bonds with their owners and have been around for such a long time. In fact, dogs were first tamed 20,000 to 40,000 years ago by the North Siberians, mainly for hunting purposes. Cats are said to have been domesticated for the first time around 10,000 years ago in the Middle East.

However, little light is brought to the ownership of less common pets such as reptiles or an animal in the equidae family. Around 3.8% of U.S. households own reptiles, which is significantly lower than cats and dogs. Even less, 1.3% of U.S. households own animals in the horse family. Since these pets are much less common, little is known about how they are cared for and what it is like to own these types of animals.

Freshman Tristan Gaudioso is part of the fraction of U.S. households that own reptiles. She owns two Ball Python snakes. She explains that taking care of a snake is actually a lot easier than it may seem.

“I care for my pets by putting them in a pretty big tank with multiple things for them to climb on as well as three shelters to sleep in. The humidity lies anywhere from 20-40%. They have heat lamps and a water container for them to drink out of. I have to feed them once every 7-10 days. We take them out often and let them have natural sun,” Gaudioso said.

Gaudioso takes out her snakes Malibu and Ramen often and lets them slither up her arm. She sits there playing with them as they glide on the surface on the floor moving slowly.

“We play with them a while until we decide to put them back or if they’re getting cold,” Guadioso said.

Malibu is a yellow snake with dark golden yellow lines resembling veins etched throughout its skin. Ramen is an all black and brown spotted snake with dark black eyes, and is the mysterious dark one compared to Malibu looking like a giant ball of sunshine.

As donkeys are quite unusual pets to have around, Schafer said his friends’ reactions are always of surprise or excitement whenever they visit his home.

“A very common reaction I get from my friends and other people is ‘Oh my gosh a donkey!’ People like to go over and pet the donkey and have Mama shed her affection and love onto them. Then there’s other people who are too scared to go over and pet her, but that is a different story,” Aldrich said.

Aldrich has lived with Mama the donkey since he was born. The donkey has fluffy tan hair with big long ears flaring her nostrils out standing tall and proud, showing all of her affection.

Just like Gaudioso, Aldrich said that taking care of his pet is a little easier than it seems.

“The maintenance for a donkey is very little and requires little work. Since she roams on a 20-acre property, I do not have to clean up and worry about the manure. I will occasionally come out and pet her though,” Aldrich said.

Gina Irving, an equine expert for Underwood Family Farms, knows exactly how to properly care for donkeys. She agrees that they are actually quite low maintenance, despite being such an uncommon pet.

“In general, donkeys are easy keepers and very hardy. Meaning, they don’t require a lot of food and care because they originated in the African Desert, [so] they are able to live on little food and water for long periods of time,” Irving writes to the Talon.

A bond between an owner and their donkey can be built just like a bond between an owner and their dog. Donkeys appreciate when they are brushed, have their hooves picked, and are displayed simple affection. Just like the average cat or dog, uncommon pets require attention.

Mama acts like a child with her varying moods sometimes. She can be affectionate, boring and most of all stubborn, which donkeys are known for. It can take Adlrich multiple tries to get Mama to comply with whatever he asks. Attempting to pull her along with a rope is not much help, either.

Many people do not know what it is like to take care of an uncommon pet such as a donkey or a snake, so it provides a new perspective to learn about the lives of those that do.

“People often grimace at the thought of having pet snakes as they’re seen as very aggressive creatures, but usually they’re very docile and kind,” Gaudioso said.

This story was originally published on The Oak Park Talon on April 16, 2021.