From rags to riches: A donkey’s journey to the promised land

Catalana the donkey outside the bookstore

Photo courtesy of Kalin Morris

By Tommy Davis

Staff Writer

There’s a new resident in the small town of Sewanee, and she’s come farther than most students around campus. Her name is Catalana and she’s a wildborn donkey from Arizona right off the Colorado river. She lived with her wild herd for around a year before the US Bureau of Land Management took a part of her herd away for adoption. Bob Smith, guest of Sewanee resident Jill Carpenter, decided to adopt her and from there begins Catalana’s trek from the deserts of Arizona to the wild green forests of Sewanee.

However well-intentioned Smith’s actions were, Catalana was determined to make him work for her affection. Shortly after Smith moved her onto his property, she escaped into the Tucson mountains. Smith rounded up a posse of cowboys, Highway Patrol and the sheriff’s department to get her back. After a grueling three day chase, they successfully lassoed her and brought her back to Smith’s property. A lesson Smith would like people to take from Catalana’s three day escapade is not that donkeys are stubborn, or, to put it bluntly, an ass; but rather, they are one of the most intelligent animal species on Earth. In other words, Catalana needs some persuasion to stick around.

After a few years of living in Arizona, Smith and Catalana’s bond became such that he did not want to summer in Sewanee without her. So, Smith loaded her in the back of a horse trailer and drove 1700 miles from the far end of Arizona to Sewanee in just two days. Smith wasted no time acclimating Catalana to life on the mountain, introducing her to her new farm home and group of goat friends. He even took her through central campus on the way to downtown Sewanee. The duo gathered so much attention that a Sewanee police officer actually stopped by to ask what was going on. Smith informed the officer that he was simply walking his donkey, and asked if he had “Any admonitions?” The officer just smiled and waved him off in typical Sewanee fashion.

Catalana is currently staying on the same farmland as the goats. She has settled down since adjusting to mountain life, and is quite amiable now. That being said, donkeys have historically been known to serve as guard animals and Carolyn Hogland, leader of Sewanee’s farm operations, has theorized that the donkey may scare away and attack the goats’ predators. So, any visitor to the farm should be very respectful of the animals. Also, despite rumors to the contrary, the fence surrounding the farmland is actually electrified!

Smith, who is a retired entomology professor from the University of Arizona, maintains not only a strong bond with Catalana, but also an academic interest. He hopes to learn more about the psychology of animals through observing Catalana’s interactions. He has shown that this once-wild donkey now will give you a handshake, a fist bump with her nose, and even a kiss on the hand. She probably will not be here forever, so get involved with the farm and meet this well-travelled donkey.