Eric Herbert with Lucy the donkey at his home in the Highlands. Lucy’s sister Holly was born on Christmas and had performed in the Christmas pageant at Topaz Park. Holly died earlier this year.

Christmas a little sadder without Holly the donkey

On a cool Christmas morning in Cordova Bay in 1985, Eric and Sheila Herbert were met with an unexpected surprise after breakfast.

Couple remembers their donkey this holiday season

On a cool Christmas morning in Cordova Bay in 1985, Eric and Sheila Herbert were met with an unexpected surprise after breakfast.

They knew their newly-acquired donkey, Mauda, was due to give birth but the couple was still caught off guard by their discovery that morning.

“I thought it was a deer,” he said. “It was a foal. I picked her up. Wherever I went with Holly in my arms her mother came as well.”

With Holly’s birth began years of animal training for Herbert and public engagements for the strawberry roan donkey. On weekends, Herbert would hitch a cross-country cart to Holly and she’d pull him along Alderley Road. A regular at the Saanich Fair, Holly also carried a bride down the aisle in a Mexican-themed backyard wedding and was the first donkey ever to appear in the Victoria Day Parade, with Herbert in the cart.

Holly, along with her younger sister Lucy, also enjoyed a stint as an actor, appearing several times in the Christmas pageant at Topaz Park.

“She was the one that Mary led in the procession,” Herbert said. “In every night of the show, (Holly and Lucy) would communicate with very loud brays and of course the public thought that was terrific.”

Herbert went on to become president of the First Donkey and Mule Club of B.C., a position he holds currently, as well as the donkey ring announcer at the Saanich Fair.

At 82 – still very young in donkey years, he noted – Herbert will celebrate Christmas without Holly this week.

The donkey fell victim to a lung infection and died in May, 2011.

Lucy had prepared for her sister’s death by nipping at her during breakfast and driving her away. Animals know far more than we will ever understand, and they accept the inevitable far more readily than humans, Herbert said.

“I trained from scratch knowing absolutely nothing about donkeys. They’re the same as kids. You have to be very firm and they have to do what you want to do.”

nnorth@saanichnews.com

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