DIGGING BURROS

ù You can see the changes in a horse's diet through the rings and colors of its hooves. The color also changes when the animal is running a fever, says Robinson, who contends he "could talk for days about horses' feet."

ù It costs $85 to castrate a horse.

If an ass was good enough for the Son of God to ride on into Jerusalem, then it's certainly good enough to transport Carla Gabbard to work at Walgreens.

She's down from Flagstaff to adopt a burro, and is out sizing up the prospects. Not only does she want one for transportation to work--"because the state and the county and the city won't fix the road"--but she wants a pet. "They're much more affectionate than the mustangs. I have a friend who adopted a burro, and within two weeks, she was nudging on him."

The combination of intelligence, physical strength and a tranquil nature has made the burro an integral part of the History of Man. (Don't forget donkeys; they're really just asses by another name.) And Kelly Grissom, wild horse and burro specialist, is just the man to tell the tale.

I meet him over by the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros booth, where they're selling burro sun visors, Mane 'n' Tail conditioner, and tee shirts that say "I Have a Cute Little Ass."

"How it got started is back in Asia they had an Asian wild ass, and it was more like a zebra in its temperament. They really didn't gentle down," Grissom drawls. "The Egyptians coming down the trade routes'd see these guys dragging these Asian asses around, and they said, 'Well, we've got something that looks just about like that over back in Egypt.' So they started pulling 'em out and domesticating them.

"Then the Asians got to lookin' and said, 'Well, goddamn, their burros, they work a lot better than ours.' But that Asian ass--the onager, it's called--was the first domesticated type."
"Was that the famous Jesus ass?" I wonder.
"No, the Jesus ass was the African," he tells me. "About 9,000 years ago, they began domesticating the Asian ass. About 6,000 years ago, about the time Egypt was really cooking, making its way into the trade routes, the African ass was on the scene. It's a much more gentle, docile animal. So by the time 2,000 years ago and Jesus happened, the Asian ass was pretty much replaced."
I hearken to page seven from the Advisor:
In considering why you want [an ass], you are really asking if your reasons are valid ones and if you want [asses] for themselves or mainly for your own satisfaction.

By Kelly's way of thinking, either motivation for ass ownership is valid.
"In Arizona, people want them mainly for pets; they're really cool animals," he gushes. "When they gentle down, they're like a dog. They sing to you when you're leaving in the morning, they're happy to see you come home, so they sing again. I'd say they're even more intelligent than a horse. Horses lose it with fear, they panic and fear takes over.

"When a burro gets into a situation they can't understand, they stand and think about it. People say they're stubborn; that's not it. They're cautious."

Arizona has not always looked upon wild burros with such a gentle eye. When undomesticated herds appeared near the Grand Canyon in the last half of the 19th century, the government, goaded by irate ranchers and landowners, took to shooting and poisoning the little buggers. They've wound up in everything from dog food to tamales.

Even as late as December 1, 1943, right here in Tucson at the Pioneer Hotel, the ultimate utility animal was served as the main course. At a Rotary meeting. Seems wacky Rotarian funsters delivered the meat to the chef, telling him it was venison; the ring leader, UofA prof J.F. McKale, speaks in a letter published posthumously:

"I had the burro ears wrapped up in a newspaper, and after the meal, standing next to the nearest exit, I announced what they had been eating, and threw in the two ears."
Gosh--bet the boys got a good chuckle out of that one!

It is Saturday, and I'm back at the rodeo grounds for the lottery that will determine which lucky person will return home with a burro to call his own. There are more people here than yesterday, but things are quiet. I was expecting tension, excitement, swearing, maybe even fistfights over the prized asses. Instead, a small boy in a Jim Carrey Riddler shirt runs by, screaming, "We got the one we wanted!"

This is Joanne Humphrey's third try at adopting; her number is 45, meaning that 44 others will get to thin the burro herd before she gets a shot. Not great. She gazes hopefully into the burro pen. Joanne has a bright red cowboy hat, a bracelet set with a bear claw, and a ten-acre farm where she raises sharlynn melons. A melon of which I know nothing.

"They're a cross between a cantaloupe and a honeydew," she informs me with pride. "They've got a white, fleshy meat and they're absolutely wonderful."
Joanne, who already has a mule, says her place is just aching for a burro.
"I'm looking to get one of the little burros, and if I do, he'll basically be a lawn mower."
But the choice beasts are going fast, and by the time 45 comes over the PA, it looks like her lawn will be submitting to a Black & Decker.

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