Eulogy for an old burro

Around our small ranch animals are constantly born while others die. For those raised for food, mostly goats, sheep and cattle, their stay on earth is brief and uneventful until their last day. Donkeys, horses and ranch dogs live longer but only for as long as they can perform their jobs.

Then there are the fatalities, animals that get hit by cars, are abandoned or get into fights they lose, whose deaths might be quick or lingering, depending on the circumstances. The latter are painful to for us to deal with and we’re lucky to our gardener Félix to help us.

Along with a preternatural memory, and acute senses of hearing and vision, Félix has a unique link of affection and kinship with animals—a vibe—that’s rare for someone who has lived all his life in rural Mexico where animals mostly are for food and trade.

I’ve asked Felix how he developed his instincts for animals but he’s never given me a good answer. I remember, though, that when he found his favorite dog Chupitos dead near our ranch, the victim of feral dogs or coyotes, he was near tears as we buried her. Other times he has angrily muttered about people being cruel to animals by mistreatment or neglect.

Felix can pick out the distant chirping of baby birds hanging precariously in a nest on a tree, or the frantic rustle of rabbits through the brush—or the pitiful sound of puppies abandoned by the side of the road.

Once, he found a grocery bag with seven puppies, barely a week old, only four still alive. Separated from their mother so early, there was no alternative but to take the survivors to the vet to be euthanized. Félix couldn’t understand the cruelty of someone abandoning the puppies.

Félix tending to the burro. 

Then he found another puppy, maybe a month old and badly injured, under a roadside huizache bush. Our guess is that someone had tossed her out from their car. Félix led us to her and asked what we should do.

What do you think? So we spayed and patched her up, named her Felisa (after Félix) and three years later she’s still with us, a beat-up runt not likely to evolve into a beauty.

Thanks to Félix we’ve also seen baby rabbits, injured birds and rattlesnakes, though the latter he quickly decapitates with a shovel. I’ve tried to show him how to dispose of snakes humanely, put them in a bucket and take them out to a nearby field, but even softy Félix has no use for rattlers.

Yesterday after lunch Félix reported finding a nearly dead burro. We went to check and indeed found it lying by the side of the road, breathing laboriously, blood coming out his mouth, his eyes wide open, frozen in uncomprehending terror.

We brought a bucket of water which Felix fed the burro with a plastic bottle, as he rubbed and caressed the animal’s head and ears.

Then what? Even Félix said the animal was beyond saving, so it was a matter of how to put it to sleep. He, and later a neighbor, suggested finding a gun, except we couldn’t find anyone who had one. None of us knew how to use a gun either.

Felisa shortly after arrival. 

Stew called our vet, Ricardo, a young and very competent guy who has saved two of our dogs from bites by brown recluse spiders and rattlesnake bites, though a third, Gladys, died in his office.

Ricardo confessed he didn’t know much about large animals but after some insistence by Stew—we couldn’t allow a long agonizing death for the animal under the blazing sun—he agreed to come by in forty-five minutes.

While we waited for Ricardo, Félix knelt by the dying animal and kept caressing its head and nose and pouring water into his mouth, which it seemed to lap up eagerly.

This was an old though small donkey, guessing by the yellowed and stained teeth. Like so many animals of burden around here, it showed signs of a life of hard labor. It had lacerations all over his body and particularly on his front feet as the result of its owner tying the front legs together to keep it from running away—a common practice.

Ricardo administers a few final rubs.  

The burro tossed jerkily a few times and even managed to turn himself around, but it was futile. One of his hind legs seemed to be broken and the bleeding out of his mouth suggested internal hemorrhaging, probably from getting hit broadside by a car.

Ricardo arrived with his girlfriend, also a vet, checked the animal gently and pronounced him beyond help. He’d brought a long needle and two bottles of medication, the first a relaxant, the second a poison to stop the heart, a common sequence when euthanizing dogs and cats. He injected them on an artery on the neck of the burro and rubbed gently after each shot.

As expected, the donkey first quit moving and after five or six minutes its heart gave out. As a farewell he took a long pee.

Last shot. 

Once, in Chicago, we found our veteran vet Tony visibly shaken and upset at the end of the day. He had euthanized several animals that day, he said, and no matter how sick or old the animal, or merciful the killing, he could never get used to doing it.

So was the case with Ricardo and his assistant who were stone-faced and silent as we all stood around the dead animal. He confessed he had never had to put a large animal to sleep and was nervous. His fee for the visit and the euthanasia was fifteen hundred pesos or approximately seventy five dollars.

Lack of alternatives quickly answered the question of what to do with the dead burro. The garbage truck wouldn’t come until Thursday and probably wouldn’t pick up a two- or three-hundred-pound animal anyway.

So Ricardo suggested, and we agreed, it was best just to leave the dead burro there to serve as food for the wild dogs, coyotes and vultures that wander around these parts.

5 thoughts on “Eulogy for an old burro

  1. Throughout your story, I could hear Jesus' voice: “Indeed, if someone gives just a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my talmid — yes! — I tell you, he will certainly not lose his reward!”All of you — Felix, Stew, Ricardo, Al — are truly good Samaritans.


  2. You're right on the money. We found the burro Monday afternoon and by Wednesday it was pretty much gone. Kind of gross, but as you say, that is the way things work in


  3. My son John, degreed as a wildlife biologist, refers to that as the “Circle of Life”. Hard as it may be……You did all you could do.You have such a gem in Felix. I look at his photo in the mornings as I fix my biscuits with honey.


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