That Girl’s Blog: Saving Grace

A little over a year ago I met an unlikely friend: a donkey named Grace.

Well, when I first met her, she was “#126.” That was all we knew, and she had the yellow auction sticker on her rump to prove it.

I knew very little about farms and even less about donkeys, but I answered a post on Facebook from a non-profit called Mills River Rescue & Sanctuary. They had pulled a pair of donkeys from a terrible auction out of state and were preparing to bring them to the Cape.

The first donkey was “Harvey.” He was all white (albeit dusty and dirty) and very easygoing with enough personality to make you want to be his drinking buddy. He was already spoken for, so his visit at Mills River Rescue would be short.

The other donkey was the concern for Patti and the other folks from the farm. This donkey was scared and shut down. Her coat had was missing in places from rain-rot, her wither was slumped, her hooves were overgrown and her eyes were dark and distant. I want to say her eyes were sad, but it was worse – there was no emotion in her eyes. She had grown hollow from a past that no one wants to know.

The Facebook post read:

Here is a picture of Grace. She will be coming to our rescue next week. Grace will need lots of calm, quiet attention. PM me if you would like to volunteer to sit with her and help her out. We hear she will need work with leading and being touched, as well as lots of resting after her scary journey through auction.

I’m not sure what I was thinking at the time, but I sent a message to the page. I introduced myself and offered to come by and read books to Grace and try to help her get accustomed to human voices. Patti, who runs the rescue, invited me to come for a visit. 

With Patti’s help, I introduced myself to the newest rescue. Grace was not interested. She still had a halter with baling twine attached that no one had been comfortable trying to remove from her head. She also had that yellow sticker with her auction number clinging to her like she was a piece of meat.

I remember spending one quiet afternoon with her when she was still too fearful to be comfortable with anyone or anything. I had been reading out loud and she ventured over a little bit at a time. I was able to slowly reach out and got hold of a small edge of the horrible sticker on her side. She paused just long enough for me to pull the sticker off and then she dashed away out of reach.

I’m going to be honest – I was probably as scared of her as she was of me! An unpredictable animal – especially something as big as a donkey – could do a lot of damage with one kick or even a bite. Slowly, we began to trust each other. I would bring her treats and she would rest her head on my arm and let me rub her cheeks. She also grew more comfortable with the caring volunteers at the rescue. 

Cat Wilson with “Grace” and “Harvey”

Fast forward to present day…

I snuck down to visit Grace one afternoon this week when no one was around. She was in an open area with a few ponies and a mini donkey named Marilyn. With the help of Patti, Tammy, Janice and a small team of caring and patient volunteers, Grace has blossomed! Her coat is sleek and shiny, her hooves are trimmed and easier to walk on, her eyes have a sparkle and she has more self-confidence than ever before.

Of course, Grace is still picky about her human friends and personifies the saying “stubborn as a donkey,” but she is, after all, a donkey.

Mills River Rescue & Sanctuary, like so many non-profits, had to adapt to life during a pandemic. Slowly, they started to welcome small family tours to the sanctuary. The chickens, ducks, peacocks, ponies and bunnies were all happy to greet children under Tammy’s close supervision. Grace, however, was not on the list of animals the families could meet… until one curious child came along.

Over the summer, there was a picture that brought me to tears. It was a young child looking intently at into the calm brown eyes of a dark-colored donkey. Her head was lowered so the little boy could give her a scratch and pet her soft muzzle. It was one of those moments when your heart stops because you have to make room for a new emotion. Grace was learning to trust, and she likes children! She is easy and gentle and curious. 

Photo by Mills River Rescue & Sanctuary

Grace still has a long way to go before finding the right “forever home,” but when I think about how far she has come, I am reminded about the special relationship between people and animals. I’m reminded that there is as much good out there, as there is bad… and sometimes there is even a bit more good than bad.

Yesterday, I drove home from the sanctuary with dirty hands and donkey slobber on my clothes. Grace was nuzzling and nibbling and leaning and even playing with me. She showed me where she wanted her ears scratched and leaned her great big head into my arms. She listened to me talk and gazed at me with her soulful eyes as I rambled on about my week and how the summer was so strange and how I was impressed at how beautiful everyone says she has become.

There are a few of us who knew she was beautiful all along.

Photo by Mills River Rescue & Sanctuary

If you want to learn more about Mills River Rescue and Sanctuary, visit their facebook page:

or their website,, where you will find information about the work they do along with a link to make donations. Tours are available through the end of September and are by appointment only. 

Would you like to share a story or a comment? Email me: [email protected] 

About Cat Wilson

Cat Wilson is "That Girl" on Cape Country 104 – a Cape Cod native and longtime Cape radio personality. She is a passionate supporter of Military and Veteran causes on the Cape and also hosts local music spotlight program, “The Cheap Seats” on Ocean 104.7.
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Hyannis, MA 02601
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