By Gemma Vaughan
Education has evolved over the years. Tablets have replaced composition books. Computer labs made typewriters obsolete. Many students wouldn’t recognize an overhead projector if they saw one. Given all the innovations and advances, why are some school districts still clinging to the antiquated tradition of forcing donkeys to “play” basketball in fundraisers?
Yes, you read that correctly: Students and faculty shoot hoops while riding donkeys supplied by a handful of companies that rent out these personable and intelligent animals like carnival equipment. During games, they are often pulled, kicked, screamed at or even hit by inexperienced riders who are more interested in putting on a show for spectators than in treating them with care.
Contrary to the common perception that donkeys are “stubborn,” they can best be described as cautious. They prefer routine and don’t adjust quickly to change. On the donkey basketball circuit, they’re loaded into tractor-trailers and hauled from one event to the next. Life on the road and being forced into one new environment after another is stressful for them. They repeatedly find themselves in gymnasiums surrounded by screaming kids, bullhorns and whistles. According to The Donkey Sanctuary in the U.K., an average-size donkey is not able to carry much more than 100 pounds, yet in most games, donkeys are forced to carry full-grown adults or teenagers.
Donkeys are specifically excluded from protection under the Animal Welfare Act and are afforded no federal protection whatsoever. And operators of traveling shows come and go quickly, so even if local authorities wanted to conduct inspections or take other action, the donkeys and their exhibitor might be long gone. Unlike horses, donkeys tend to hide their pain and may even continue to eat when they’re not feeling well, making signs of illness hard to detect.
Stressful and confusing situations can also make them skittish and unpredictable. A man in Waterloo, Illinois, was awarded more than $110,000 for injuries that he sustained in a donkey basketball game, and a Wisconsin state senator fell off a donkey during a game and broke her leg. In 2006, a Florida teacher sued the Diocese of St. Petersburg and the owner of the Dixie Donkey Ball company, claiming that she had sustained injuries after being thrown off a donkey at a fundraiser. In 2011, Grant Community High School District in Illinois ended donkey basketball games after its insurance carrier expressed concern for its liability. A district spokesperson said, “[I]t was time for it to end. … People fall off the donkeys and hit the floor pretty hard, not to mention some of the donkeys buck the players off.”
Supporting donkey basketball sends kids the message that forcing animals to perform stunts to entertain us is acceptable if it’s “for a good cause.” Child psychologists as well as top law-enforcement officials consider cruelty to animals a red flag that predicts future violent behavior; given schools’ responsibility for striving to maintain a zero-tolerance policy toward bullying, they should condemn all forms of cruelty, including cruelty to animals.
With so many innovative and humane ways to raise funds, schools that rely on animal exploitation in order to do so are failing their students.