In most of the world, donkeys are beasts of burden, but the only job of the long-eared denizens of Donkey Park is to nuzzle, bray and beguile the diverse group of people who find comfort in their company.
Donkey Park is the creation of Steve Stiert, who sought a new direction after his job as a software engineer for IBM was eliminated six years ago. He first heard about donkeys from his daughter in veterinary school and fell in love with them. Now he’s devoting his life to providing an opportunity for people to interact with donkeys and experience their calming presence.
Stiert has 11 donkeys, a mule and a donkey-zebra hybrid that live in a neat, 1.5-acre mini ranch at his home in Ulster Park, 130 kilometers north of New York City. He takes them to schools, nursing homes and events for children with disabilities. He also teaches donkey husbandry and has an 800-member Meetup group that features hikes with donkeys.
Employing donkeys for animal-assisted therapy is gaining popularity among groups dedicated to protecting them from mistreatment. The Donkey Sanctuary, based in Devon, England, offers donkey-assisted therapy programs for children recovering from cancer, victims of human trafficking and other vulnerable people.