Rose had started walking toward the sheep, her usual charges, but I told her to lie down and wait. I could see that Lulu's knees were already scraped and starting to swell. What if, in their fear, the donkeys hurt themselves or one another? I couldn't leave them out here all night, struggling in the frozen muck.
"Rose," I said. "Get 'em up. Get 'em up." It was a command we sometimes used to dig the sheep out of fence corners or other awkward spots. When Rose heard it, she would move behind the sheep and nip at their tails and behinds to get the flock moving. It was a tricky call. If Rose went at her too aggressively, Lulu might flail, fall hard, injure herself. But there seemed no better choice. The ice would just get worse as the temperature dropped.
"Get 'em up!" I said again, gesturing toward the donkeys. Rose looked at me strangely, tense and alert, trying to make sense of the command in this odd setting. I'm well aware that dogs don't think in human terms, but sometimes Rose does look at me as if I were dancing naked in the snow. She cocks her head and studies me, intent on figuring out what the strange human wants now.
Normally, I don't encourage her to approach the donkeys. She and Lulu have an uneasy relationship (Lulu kicked her once, and since then Rose hasn't been above a quick nip at Lulu's butt when she thinks I'm not looking). But I've come to think of Rose as the all-purpose antidote to virtually any animal transport problem.
She got it, as she invariably does, and crept quietly behind Lulu, nipping at her tail. Lulu suddenly popped to her feet, along with Fanny. Then I pointed to Jesus and Jeannette, and Rose was happy to repeat the exercise. The ground was so slippery that the donkeys were reluctant to move; even Rose nearly skated into the side of the barn. But I half-crawled to the barn's big sliding door and opened it. Slowly, in small steps, they made their way inside. I told Rose to lie down in the doorway so the donkeys wouldn't bolt back out, but it turned out they were quite happy to be in stalls with straw bedding, usually reserved for emergencies or vets' visits, that brought shelter from the wind and sleet.
I wiped them down and put antibiotic salve and gauze bandages on Lulu's and Jeannette's bloodied knees. Jesus and Fanny seemed all right. I gave everyone some grain, fresh hay, a bucket of water. Lulu showed appreciation in her usual way, by leaning against me as I scratched her ears and neck. I brushed the ice from her head and flanks. I think we were both relieved. Fanny lay down on the straw and sighed.
Donkeys live in the moment, though. As I closed the door, I heard them munching happily on hay, safe from the intensifying storm, no longer in need of human attention. I thanked Rose profusely and began the long, laborious trek back to the house. I would be happy to find a wood stove, a heating pad, and a glass of Scotch myself.
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