Raising little ones

Gail Heaney

Not far off Highway 99 in Los Molinos, a sign on a cedar fence reads “Miniature Donkeys for Sale.” Gail Heaney lives behind that fence with her husband, three Westies, and various other animals, including a herd of about 20 miniature donkeys, which she raises for people to enjoy as pets. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Heaney relocated to Los Molinos in 1981 and quickly turned into a country person. (“I was amazed you could really grow a bell pepper and eat it!”) Heaney raised Old English sheepdogs, fainting goats, pygmy goats, Baby Doll Southdown sheep, Westies (West Highland Terriers) and other animals before buying her first miniature donkeys in 1993. Heaney has also worked as a nurse and as a coordinator of a child abuse-prevention program, and she’s served as a volunteer for several local election campaigns. She is currently the president of Northern California Miniature Donkey Breeders club (visit www.minidonkeyclub.com for more info), and the miniature donkeys of Gail’s Mini Donkey Ranch are also available for special events, both at the farm and in the community—call 384-1318 or visit www.minidonkeys.com for details.

Why miniature donkeys?

I think mini-donkeys are the best animal God created because they’re loving and loyal, [and] they’re a kind, gentle, wonderful, smart animal. … I’m an ambassador for the breed.

What are some of the activities you organize?

I do petting zoos, field trips, parades. … In the spring I have as many as three groups from a program for disabled people who come to look at the donkeys when the babies are born. I’ve taken donkeys to Head Start and to the schools. My neighbors will call and say they have relatives visiting who want to see the donkeys, and I tell them to come over.

Any stories about people interacting with the donkeys?

The disabled adults who come are so wonderful and sweet. There was one girl in a wheelchair who screamed nonstop—she couldn’t speak. The minute she saw the donkeys, she went silent, and she didn’t scream one time while she was here.

What should people know about miniature donkeys?

They weren’t bred down to be small. They are a natural small breed out of Africa, so they don’t have breeding and birthing problems. God created them that way.

How do you name your donkeys [e.g. “Uncle Alton,” “Aunt Lois”]?

I name all my animals after dead friends and family as a tribute. I started doing it because I missed that person. If you die and I don’t like you, you don’t get a donkey [named after you]!