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‘Encounter’ Art at the Art Center and Donkeys at Bol Park

‘Encounter’ Art at the Art Center and Donkeys at Bol Park

Once you’ve checked out the Art Center’s Encounters exhibition—on view through December 29—head out to the Barron Park neighborhood in Palo Alto and have a live encounter with the two donkeys that idly clop around in the Bol Park pasture.

“They’re basically like big dogs and are extremely friendly, smart, and inquisitive,” says Jenny Kiralti, volunteer lead handler for the two donkeys, Perry and Jenny. “Anything that happens in the pasture, or on the nearby path, they will be there. We had a bike event in the park recently and the donkeys were at the gate the whole time watching the riders. In fact, if we didn’t chain the gate, they would open it.”

They donkeys have been part of the Bol Park one-acre pasture since 1934, thanks to Dr. Cornelis Bol, a Stanford University physicist who first placed a donkey there to keep his sons occupied. Over time, many different donkeys have occupied Bol Park, and community members, volunteers, and donors have banded together to preserve the tradition.

“I just think it’s such a special thing to live in a community where we have something like this,” says Susan Carsen, a volunteer who has been working with the donkeys for the past two decades. “So many kids who visit the donkeys just don’t have access to that rural experience, and it’s a wonderful thing to see.”

Perry the donkey arrived in 1997, and Jenny the donkey joined him in 2016. Perry is 25 years old and Jenny is believed to be in her late 20’s. Donkeys generally live well into their thirties, outliving horses by about 10 years.

“Contrary to popular belief, donkeys are not stubborn,” explains Kiralti. “They are willful and cautious, however. I really don’t know how to train the donkeys—we just feed and walk them.”

All care for the animals is provided by about two dozen volunteer donkey handlers who feed the donkeys in the morning and evening. Volunteers also brush the donkeys, perform health checks, and maintain the pasture.

Jenny the donkey really likes children and older people, says Kiralti.

“The VA Hospital is just across the park and patients come to see the donkeys because it’s very calming and somewhat therapeutic,” she says. “For a while, we had one patient in a wheelchair who would come here every day to visit them.”

The donkeys also play with one another, playfully biting each other and following each other around. Perry and Jenny also pick up and move around a large ball with a handle and a big bin.

Leni Covington and her grandson Kallian, visiting from Durham, N.C., drew the attention of the two donkeys, who sauntered up to the gate.

“I love it,” says Leni. “I grew up on a farm, so I like anything outdoors. I also have friends who own a little donkey.” Kallian added that he would like a donkey of his own.

Perry, the smaller of the two donkeys, is something of a celebrity. He was the model for “Donkey” (voiced by Eddie Murphy) in the 2001 animated movie Shrek. Both donkeys also receive fan mail and artwork in a mailbox outside of their corral.

Visitors to the Encounters exhibition may want to view artist Elisabeth Higgins O’Connor large donkey-like installation piece, hate stayed the ending…that love started to say, constructed of Styrofoam, wood, bedsheets, paper, paint, domestic textiles, rope and quilting pins.

The donkeys are located in Bol Park, near 3590 Laguna Ave. in Palo Alto and may be visited during daylight hours. The donkeys also stroll along a path to the front of the park on Sundays from 10-11 a.m.

“The donkeys aren’t here in the pasture for any specific purpose,” says Kiralti. “They’re just here for tradition and love.”

Interested in learning more about the donkeys, or donating to their continued welfare? Go here.

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Last Updated: October 15, 2019