Running With Donkeys

That’s how Sherman came to live with Chris, his wife Mika Cox McDougall, and their two daughters. The 200-pound donkey arrived there after having been kept in a small stall in a barn by a hoarder. Sherman was in such bad condition, his hooves overgrown to the point they curled up, that the McDougalls weren’t sure he’d live. Thanks to a hacksaw and a lot of patience and care, he did.

Donkeys depend on the rocking motion of movement to digest their food, so McDougall got the wild idea of taking Sherman running. It’s not a new thing to run with a donkey — burro racing has been around since the 1940s. But would it be possible to run with Sherman, the donkey who almost didn’t live?

With the help of a friend’s two donkeys, Flower and Matilda, it worked.

“Here, she’s the easy one,” Mika McDougall told me when she handed me Matilda’s harness. Matilda did look friendly — she’s about Sherman’s size, at 200 pounds, a petite lady compared to Flower, who clocks in closer to 700 pounds and is taller than I am. But I also knew that Matilda had once kicked a dog so hard that its leg needed to be amputated. If I managed to get my leg broken by a donkey before the upcoming New York City Marathon, which I’ve been training for months now to run with my mother, she would murder me (and she’s resourceful enough to know how to make it look like an accident).

Mika offered to take a picture, so I stood up straight, a step back from Matilda, with her leash in my hand.

“No, get real close to her, and scratch her ears! She’s very friendly!” she said.

Running with donkeys, it turns out, is not much different than running with my stubborn dog, only they’re a lot bigger and can break your leg. At multiple points along the way, Chris McDougall even called Flower “Dog.” He interviewed Cesar Millan — the Dog Whisperer — for his book, which he also wrote about in The Times this week. The three donkeys — Chris with Flower, me with Matilda, and Mika with Sherman — worked together like a pack. Flower led, Matilda followed, with Sherman bringing up the rear. Sherman never liked to let Matilda out of his sight, and when she sensed Sherman gaining on her, she sped up because she wanted to be in his lead.