Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Abusive Sport of Donkey Basketball

I'd like you to take a good look at the photograph above. Look at it. I could find a hundred more like it if I searched on google. A person, far over the 20% weight limit of this standard donkey, being bucked off on a slick court. The donkey's body language says it all: GET THE HECK OFF. 

Donkey basketball is a so called "sport", oftentimes used to raise funds for school events like proms. The problem with this is that not only does it teach a lack of compassion towards others, but it also is a time honored tradition that many schools are unwilling to shed, despite the abusive practices. 

Above: You can see the donkey's joints in the lower legs (fetlocks and pasterns) being strongly stressed by this unbalanced, extremely heavy man.Behind him, you can see a man riding a donkey where his legs can reach the ground. 

In this article, I will take some of the most often used arguments for donkey basketball and give logical and reasoned answers as to why those arguments are, well, total trash. 

Awareness is being raised about this cruel practice, and arguments both for and against it are becoming quite heated. It all boils down to one thing: the animals' best interests are not in the hearts and minds of the participants nor the owners. It takes a bit of distancing oneself from the welfare of the mind and body of the donkey to participate or condone such a sport. 

Here's probably my favorite quote: "But Mary rode on a little donkey, so donkeys can carry that much weight! I mean, donkeys are WAY stronger than horses!"

Biblical reference aside, this information is entirely false, and a really well rehearsed Donkey Myth. Donkeys, like horses, can carry up to 20% of their body weight, including tack. An average standard donkey might be around 400-600 lbs. Let's say they are using large standards (which many times they do not) and the weight is 600 lbs. That means the rider must weigh under 120 to ride. High schoolers are unlikely to be that light, especially young men. In fact, most of the riders I have seen are far above that, with much smaller donkeys. You can see in photos, the donkey's tendons and joints being stretched far beyond where they should be. As for Mary and her donkey....REALLY? THAT is your argument for Donkey Basketball? If that is the case, let's take everything from the Bible as complete fact, and start killing people for worshipping false idols. Ugh. 

Another quote: "Well, if you think Donkey Basketball is cruel, then you must think rodeos are cruel, and wouldn't want anyone riding a horse."

Um, ok. Logically that makes no sense, but let me tackle it. Some people do think certain events in rodeo are cruel. Any sport that engages animals has to look out for their welfare, and rodeo, racing, and horse showing all have had ethical issues since...forever. That doesn't mean there aren't good rodeo events or good horse racers out there. But yes, there are quite a few people who advocate against these sports because they are very fast paced and animals very often are hurt.  Second, there is an enormous, and I mean ENORMOUS difference between riding a well trained, well proportioned (to the rider) horse, mule or donkey, who has training, skills, good conformation, and trust in their human partner, and donkey basketball. Also, the whole "snowball" argument is a red herring, and therefore meant only to distract from the real issue at hand.

Let's compare:

People who are far too large for their donkeys on slick, unsafe surfaces:

A rider and her mammoth donkey with properly fitted tack on a trail:

See the difference? I sure hope so.

Quote number three: "You are a spoilsport who just wants to ruin prom for the kids. You are just mad you don't get to play. Besides, there are homeless people you should be worrying about."

First off, trying to throw people off by saying that their cause isn't as important as other cruelty cases or homelessness, or slaughter bound donkeys, or whatever other thing you want to toss in there is just plain illogical. There is a reason why so many people are fighting these types of events. They see a major ethical issue with it. There is always something worse out there comparatively. Homelessness. Child homelessness.  Oh wait, human rights violations. Oh wait! Genocide. The list can just be ratcheted up. That does not mean that a cause like this is unworthy of attention. That's how change occurs! 

Second, no, the "mean advocates" don't want to ruin your prom, or graduation, or whatever. There are about a zillion ways to fundraise for events. Donkey basketball isn't the ONLY thing that can be done.

Am I mad I don't get to play? Nope. I ride my mammoth donkeys, whom I have a strong and caring relationship with, out on trails in the Colorado mountains. I think I'm good, thanks. 

Quote number four: "This has been going on for forever, if there was an issue with it, it would have been stopped already."

Remember, most atrocities in human history were allowed to continue based on the logic of "well, it's been happening a long time, therefore it must be ok." I can't even believe anyone with an ounce of intelligence would make that argument. By saying this I am not saying that donkey basketball is on the same level as Hilter and Slavery. What I am saying is that the argument is fundamentally flawed, and has been proven so by the entire course of human history. 

And no, many many many different ethically inhumane events have not been stopped yet. It doesn't mean we shouldn't try! 

Next quote: "But, if the donkey basketball events are cancelled, the donkeys would be without a home and go to slaughter!"

So, we shouldn't stop an abusive event because the owners who supposedly "love and cherish and treat the donkeys really well" would send them to slaughter if they couldn't make money off of them? I think this quote totally proves my point. If the only reason you own donkeys is to put them in events that harm them over time and are degrading to the animal, then obviously this sort of event must be stopped. 

But where would the donkeys go? Well, high schoolers, have an adoption event! Well, if the "super nice loving" owners will allow you to because they were going to send them to slaughter anyway.  The money raised from an adoption event could pay for your prom probably three times over. And next year, rescue some more donkeys from a local auction and adopt those out! Raise awareness in support of the animals if you enjoy them that much! Help others. That's probably a pretty good life lesson to learn....

Another quote: "But the donkeys aren't abused! They aren't kicked, whipped, spurred or hit!"

The definition of abuse is as follows: 

Noun: Abuse- The improper use of something.

Donkeys cannot take the repeated strain of weight on their backs in excess of 20% of their body weight. How much clearer can one get? 

Just because you aren't starving, whipping, spurring, beating or otherwise being cruel to an animal doesn't mean it isn't abusive to have the carry far more than they are intended to, to the detriment of their ligaments, tendons, joints, and muscles. 

Donkeys are incredibly sensitive animals. They may not seem so when put into a bad situation because they tend to freeze up, a reaction known as baulking. When I start working with a new donkey I don't have  a relationship with yet, I spend a lot of time with them, touching them all over, rubbing their ears where they like it, scratching them in itchy places. I don't mount a donkey until I know they feel safe with me, understand exactly what I am doing, are comfortable with the tack I am using, and understand all of the cues I will be giving them from the ground. This process sometimes takes several weeks to months depending on the animal and their level of training and personality.  I would never presume that I could get up on a donkey on the first day and think that they would trust me or feel comfortable about it. 

A very well trained riding donkey might allow new people to ride it, but they will not usually be as receptive of cues from a person they do not know. I have seen this in evidence many times when friends come out to ride with me and my mammoth donkeys. I make sure that they ride the donkey first in a  controlled environment where they can get to know each other slowly, before ever heading out on a trail! The people participating in donkey basketball might meet their donkey for a few minutes before the game. That's it. There's no relationship or connection. The animals are tools for the amusement of people who think they are funny because they are donkeys. 

This so called "sport" is degrading to donkeys as a whole. Those of us who advocate strongly for one of the most mistreated domestic animals on the planet know how hard it is to strip away the stereotype of donkeys as an animal simply to be laughed at. Events like this compound the stereotypes and create an atmosphere of misunderstanding between humans and donkeys.

I could probably go on and on, however I feel that these specific misunderstandings needed to be cleared up. I hope that this article serves to answer the question of why we must fight to protect the safety, the dignity, and the image of the donkey from donkey basketball events.