By Vica Kazantseva
The Whatcom Humane Society has raised concerns that the 42-year-old tradition of “Donkey Basketball” in the Ferndale School District is animal cruelty.
Donkey Basketball is a tradition in which people play a revised version of basketball on the backs of donkeys as a fundraising event; different people from the community usually make teams depending on what organization or group they are part of.
The Whatcom Humane Society’s Facebook post said, “The donkeys involved, can be subjected to a variety of abuses including being pushed, pulled, or kicked by riders (most of whom are very inexperienced when it comes to animal handling/riding). In addition, the donkeys can easily slip or fall on the slick gym floor, be hit by wayward basketballs and experience stress by being subjected to noisy crowds inside a cramped, enclosed gymnasium.”
Before the event was scheduled to take place, the Whatcom Humane Society was encouraging community members to contact the Ferndale School District and personally express that “animal abuse and exploitation is not acceptable in our community” in hopes the Ferndale High School would cancel the event.
Despite their attempts to cancel the event it took place anyway on Saturday Feb. 13 in the Ferndale High School gymnasium with community members from Les Schwab, the Ferndale police department, the Ferndale fire department, local doctors, and students and staff participating from Ferndale High School.
Donkey Basketball is used as a fundraising opportunity for the Ferndale FFA (Future Farmers of America) club from Ferndale High School. The Ferndale School District superintendent Linda Quinn decided it was too late to cancel the event a few days before the fundraiser, because concerns were raised with too short of notice after the FFA had spent time and money to get the donkeys there.
“One of the arguments was that these donkeys are not fed and watered. I think in the first three minutes we’ve disproved that theory alone,” said the commentator after several donkeys had relieved themselves on the gym floor. Another audience member held a sign that quoted, “If Jesus rode a donkey, why can’t I?” Although WHS didn’t approve of the event, no representatives were seen in protest.
Many people, both students and parents didn’t see any problem or concern with holding an event like Donkey Basketball.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. If it was wrong it wouldn’t be happening. It’s fun for the families and donkeys actually get exercise, isn’t that important?” said one audience member.
The donkeys come from Donkey Sports Inc. out of Entiat, Wash. According to their webpage “The referees provided by Donkey Sports, Inc. are there to keep control of the basketball game, assist the players and to assure the donkeys are treated humanely. The safety of the players is our utmost concern.”
The donkeys are required to wear special rubber shoes that help them from slipping and sliding on the gym and also keeps the floors from being damaged. However donkeys are still subject to slipping and sliding regardless if they wear the shoes or not. Another concern was that the donkeys would be pushed, pulled or slapped by players and referees. Bruce Wick, Donkey Sports Inc’s. owner says the donkeys are well-trained and riders are not allowed to pull or jerk them around.
“The Whatcom Humane Society believes that all animals, as sentient beings, have value beyond economic measurements and are entitled to legal, moral, and ethical consideration and protection,” said Clark.
Laura Clark the Executive Director of the Humane Society believes Donkey Basketball goes against the Humane Society’s mission in which they “Educate the community to promote humane treatment and respect for animals” and that donkey basketball is disrespectful to the animals.
“WHS attended the event last weekend. While we did not observe any actions that would be legally considered animal abuse under law, we did feel that the animals at the event (donkeys and a live duck used for a “game” of duck bingo) were treated in a disrespectful manner viewed as nothing more than a means for entertainment,” said Clark.
“The Whatcom Humane Society believes that all animals, as sentient beings, have value beyond economic measurements and are entitled to legal, moral, and ethical consideration and protection,” said Clark. The Humane Society mentioned there were other fundraising opportunities offered to publicly assist the high school, student body and FFA group with “fundraising alternatives” that do not use the lives of animals as an entertainment purpose.