Henry, Dave Barney’s donkey, is something of a celebrity in our neighborhood. Visible from the road, walkers know him by name and it’s not unusual for cars to slow down and watch him for a minute or two. This is Easton after all and we appreciate many forms of local animal life.

Henry is a popular personality in Easton.

Anyway, seemed to me Henry needed a physical exam.

You may wonder why this is any of my business. Henry is not my donkey.

Almost three years ago, my neighbor, Bill Diamond, and I began a daily walk together as Covid limited most other social interactions. Our spouses were happy to get us out of the house and we loved wandering along a nearby picturesque and quiet roadway. On the route we passed Dave Barney’s farm.

Bill, a native New Yorker, became enchanted with Henry, so one day he got it into his head to bring him an apple. He snuck over the stone wall and scuttled up the front lawn with a shiny honey crisp, which Henry eagerly scarfed up.

Early on Bill delighted in giving Henry an apple, but apples became taboo when Dave suggested Henry was getting too fat.

For several days, I kept watch while Bill trespassed—yes, trespassed onto the property, until finally I said, “Bill, write the guy a note so he doesn’t take you for trouble and shoot you.”

We crafted a letter and left it in the mailbox. Not long after, Dave Barney emerged from the house as we were walking by and granted permission. Bill was delighted and I was relieved that I didn’t have to stand guard anymore.

Henry waits for our salad offerings every day

Visiting Henry became a daily activity. Now and then Dave would wander over with a cracked smile because I suppose he found our embarrassing display of baby talk with our donkey friend ludicrous. He likely surmised we had too much time on our hands.

For his part in all this, Henry was completely transactional. For his daily allotment he allowed us to dote on him and occasionally let us rub his muzzle or stroke his mane. But food treats notwithstanding, a relationship developed. Dave told us that when Henry saw us coming he danced around the pasture til we made our way up the driveway. These days Henry bugles and brays as soon as we reach his fence.

We have never missed a day of visiting Henry in over 870 days. Rain, snow or sleet, one or both of us show up with Henry’s salad bar. We bring a head of romaine and a head of celery. Sugar is bad for donkeys and Dave was concerned about Henry’s weight, so he nixed Henry’s preferred menu of apples and carrots. Personally, I thought Henry was a little portly, not fat.

Dave Barney kept a close watch on Henry’s check-up.

But about Henry’s check up…

A few weeks ago Henry seemed unwell. He refused our veggies and for the first time ever walked away from us to the back of the property where he nibbled something else. A mystery. Stomach troubles? A dental problem? We fretted. More rejections followed. We accosted Dave and issued a code red.

Dave investigated and reported back. Henry was eating chestnuts in the back of the property and likely chewing the spikey pods encasing them. He probably had mouth sores as a result. And yes, Dave agreed a vet check up and concurrent farrier visit was a good idea. In the interim, Henry was moved to another pasture away from the offending chestnut tree.

Judy Reiss (left), farrier, and Jennifer Enger, equine veterinarian, frequently work as a team making “barn calls” throughout Conn. and Westchester County.

On a recent Friday morning, farrier Judy Reiss and equine veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Enger arrived at Dave’s house for Henry’s physical. For those of you with sparse equine experience, a farrier is a blacksmith or hoof specialist who shoes horses or cares for the hooves of unshod equines. Henry’s hooves needed trimming and shaping, so simply put, Reiss came to give Henry a pedicure.

This is risky business because under normal circumstances getting anywhere near Henry’s powerful back legs could trigger a free flight to Trumbull. Reiss was unfazed. She’s been a cardiovascular nurse at Yale’s ICU for 16 years and she is unflappable. When her own horse developed a hoof problem, she decided to treat it herself “and it snowballed from there,” she says by way of explaining her additional avocation.

Judy Reiss enjoys a second career as a farrier; she is a cardiovascular nurse at Yale.

Enger, a large animal vet specializing in equine medicine, is co-owner of the Mid Hudson Veterinary Center in Carmel, New York. She primarily treats horses, but also has a range of patients, including sheep, goats, alpacas, llamas and “a cow here and there.”

Though donkeys can be dangerous patients, she found Henry to be cooperative. “He was mild,” she said. “He was okay being tethered, which is not always the case.”

A sedative was prepared so Reiss could safely work on Henry’s hooves and Enger could do her exam. Bill and I were instructed to distract Henry with food while Enger administered a long-acting intramuscular injection, which took effect in ten minutes. All the while she stroked Henry’s mane and whispered in his sizable ears. Her ministrations were gentle, and gradually we watched Henry’s eyelids lower.

He became very docile.

Watching the team go to work was quite a marvel of expertise, efficiency and compassion. Enger listened to his heart, checked his ears and mouth and gave him the necessary inoculations. Reiss filed all four hooves with nary a whimper from Henry.

The whole enterprise took under an hour and Henry was given a clean bill of health.

As we were leaving, I asked about Henry’s weight, and Enger said, “He’s a little heavy but donkeys get fat on air.”  In that regard, he and I have something in common.

Henry got a complete check-up, yearly inoculations and a full pedicure in what appeared to be a happy dream state.

For information about hoof care, contact judyreiss@sbc.global.net

Dr. Jennifer Enger can be reached through www.MidHudsonVet.Ne.

Photos by Jane Paley

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