Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter
From 19 Aug 2001 Issue
STANDING TALL, CAROL BILICZKY ACTS
RITTMAN: Amy Polacheck tacked the story of Cheyenne and Woody to the door of their stall. She doesn't want onlookers to think she's so cheap she won't rent separate quarters for the pony and donkey.
In reality, she had no choice, she explains. The last time they were apart, Cheyenne got so upset he kicked down a stall to get to his friend.
Cheyenne and Woody's is a winding story of friendship, separation and reunion.
"They're just two sweet old men,'' Polacheck, 29, says. "They've given their lives to children. I made a promise long ago that their last years would be as nice as possible.''
Cheyenne and Woody got to know each other in the mid-1970s at Camp Y-Noah in Green, Polacheck said. She started as a counselor in 1988 and eventually became a stable director over the next eight summers. The horse and donkey fascinated her.
The palomino paint Cheyenne protected the lone donkey who got in the other animals' food and generally made a pest out of himself, she recalled.
"Woody knew to run back behind Cheyenne so that nobody would mess with him,'' she said.
Cheyenne took on the role of herd leader, said Mia Zetting, director of the camp's equestrian program.
Usually he was the first one out to pasture,'' Polacheck said. "All he had to do was look at another horse, and they'd get out of the way.''
But Woody and Cheyenne's paths diverged in 1992, when the camp bought the horses and ponies from their owner in Norton. The horses and ponies made money because children pay for rides, but the donkey didn't, as his sole function was to be petted.
So Woody went on to what Polacheck, 29, hoped were greener pastures. She lost track of him until about 1998, when a friend, Veronica Matz of Akron, sighted him on a trip to the Akron Zoo.
The donkey was one of about 25 animals in a petting zoo, where he was acquiring a reputation as a ham who longed for attention.
"He had quite a personality,'' zoo spokesman David Barnhardt said. "He tried to get people to feed him popcorn, which he wasn't supposed to get. And he kept putting his head out of his barn stall and waiting to be petted by children.''
Meanwhile Polacheck, who'd married and become a mother and teacher at Woodridge Middle School, remembered the old promise she made to give the aged Camp Y-Noah animals a graceful retirement.
Every year, Zetting said, the camp gives away or sells three or four animals "when they reach the point that they don't seem to be enjoying the work or can't do it.''
A little over two years ago, that was the case with Cheyenne. Polacheck bought the graying pony -- always her favorite -- and took him to her four-acre home in Akron near Cuyahoga Falls.
But she still needed the other half of the equation -- Woody. So she began pestering the zoo.
"I need this donkey,'' she told officials. "You don't know how much Cheyenne and Woody bonded.''
She got her wish last year when Woody's back got so weak he couldn't give rides to children anymore. Polacheck retrieved the lethargic animal and took him to her home.
"Cheyenne smelled Woody before he saw him,'' she recalled. "We got about 100 yards away and they started screaming at each other. They started grooming each other and nuzzling.''
That led to two weeks of unabashed delight. "Whenever they were in the pasture, they were touching each other,'' she said. "If I took one in the barn to groom him, the other freaked out. If one was laying down, the other was standing watch over him.''
When she tried to separate the two, she found it wasn't a good idea. The angry herd leader simply pulled down the stall to get to the smaller Woody.
So she moved the two to larger quarters at Malabar Farms North in Rittman, just over the Medina County line.
Now Cheyenne and buddy spend about 12 hours a day in what Polacheck fondly calls an "assisted-living pasture.''
There's that bigger stall they need and plenty of acreage to roam and, of course, each other. They get an occasional sugar cube, and the sign on their stall urges passers-by to pet them.
"You want them to have plenty of stimulation, and that's what they get there, what with the other animals and people around,'' she said.
Their days together may be numbered. While horses and donkeys usually live to be about 30, Cheyenne is 41 and Woody 37.
But while arthritic, they're healthy. And they finally have each other.
"Now they're not ridden, just petted and loved,'' Polacheck said.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at 330-996-3729 or
Even when things seem to move at a snail's pace, be persistent, and never lose hope!
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