Obama and Shorty are as different in character as two donkeys can be, but they have one thing in common - missing ears.

Obama is playful and lively, and loves causing mischief with his best friend Gino. By contrast, kind-natured Shorty is quiet and gentle. In spite of their differences, they are both distinctive figures at The Donkey Sanctuary in Italy - Il Refugio Degli Asinelli - due to the fact they have both had most of their ears amputated.

Life threatening tumours

The choice to amputate is never easy, but in the case of Obama and Shorty, our vets considered the risk that the sarcoids on their ears presented to be too great.

Sarcoids are a type of skin tumour (cancer) commonly found in equines. If left untreated, a sarcoid can grow and become malevolent - the most aggressive form. They can also ulcerate and become painful, and may present a risk of contamination to other donkeys in the herd.

Although Obama and Shorty’s sarcoids were discovered at different times, their treatment was the same. Vets first tried to use gentler therapies, such as the application of chemotherapeutic ointments, which unfortunately had no effect.

Shorty had already lost her mother Daria to untreatable sarcoids, and the risk they posed to each of them - and potentially the rest of the herd - was so great that prompt action needed to be taken.

Shorter ears, but many more years

Obama’s operation took place almost two years ago now. Staff member Rachele Totaro said: “Obama’s operation was a success. I remember, that his friend Gino was always right next to him - before and after the operation and throughout the period of convalescence, he was by his side.

“Gino didn’t take any notice of Obama’s bandaged stumps – let me be clear, it’s not that he didn’t notice them, as donkeys never miss a thing. Simply, he must have thought that under those ears, long or short, there was still the same Obama all of the time.”

Obama following ear amputation
Obama playing with Gino at Italy sanctuary
Obama and Gino steal collar at Italy sanctuary
Obama is just as handsome (and mischievous) as before he lost his ears.

Shorty’s operation took place only a few months ago, and her operation was also a success. She too had her best friend Chocolate by her side throughout, which is something we always make sure is possible when a donkey has to have any hospital or specialist treatments.

Both donkeys have now returned to the herd. Their missing ears don’t stop them ‘being donkeys’ and joining in with the others.

Shorty and Chocolate following amputation
The pair have remained fast friends throughout Shorty's ordeal.
Full size
Donkey ears and mane

It is believed that donkeys can use their ears to communicate over a distance of up to 60 miles in the right conditions

Rachele adds: “People often ask if they can still hear – the answer is yes, absolutely! If you stop to watch them, you can see they move their ears in the direction of sound just like the other donkeys do.”

Staff will continue to monitor Obama and Shorty, to ensure that they don’t have any further problems and that the sarcoids don’t reoccur.

Thankfully, due to the prompt and expert care they have received, these two unmistakable donkeys will continue to enjoy their lives within the herd for many years to come.