Horse News

Smoke the Iraqi Donkey Becomes a Red Blooded American

story by Jessica Gresko as printed in Newsvine

It took 37 days and a group of determined animal lovers, but a donkey from Iraq is now a U.S. resident.

In this Sept. 11, 2008 photo provided by the Department of Defense and Retired Marine Col. John Folsom, Smoke the Donkey takes part in a Freedom Walk event at Camp Taqaddum, Iraq. It took 37 days and a group of determined animal-lovers, but the donkey from Iraq is now a U.S. resident. Smoke The Donkey, who became the friend and mascot of a group of U.S. Marines living in Iraq’s Anbar Province nearly three years ago, arrived in New York this week aboard a cargo jet from Turkey. After being quarantined for two days he was released Saturday and began road trip to Omaha, Nebraska, where he is destined to become a therapy animal. (Photo Department of Defense)

Smoke The Donkey, who became a friend and mascot to a group of U.S. Marines living in Iraq’s Anbar Province nearly three years ago, arrived in New York this week aboard a cargo jet from Turkey. After being quarantined for two days he was released Saturday and began a road trip to Omaha, Neb., where he is destined to become a therapy animal.

The chest-high donkey’s story begins in the summer of 2008, when he wandered in to Camp Taqaddum west of Fallujah, a former Iraqi air base being used by Marines.

The smoke-colored donkey, which once snatched and ate a cigarette from a careless Marine, soon became such a part of the unit that he received his own care packages and cards. Marines took care of him until 2009 when they left the area, but they turned Smoke over to a sheik who promised to care for him.

But one of the Marines, retired Col. John Folsom, couldn’t forget Smoke.

Folsom used to walk Smoke daily and had formed a bond with the animal. It didn’t seem right that Smoke was left behind, he said in a telephone interview Saturday.

Folsom, the founder of a support group for military families, Wounded Warriors Family Support, decided to see if Smoke could be brought to the United States to serve as a therapy animal.

Getting Smoke back proved more difficult than Folsom realized. At first, the sheik demanded $30,000 for the famous donkey, a demand that was later dropped. Then, there was the bureaucracy of getting Smoke nearly 7,000 miles around the world: blood tests, health certifications and forms from customs, agriculture and airline officials.

To cut through the red tape, Folsom got help from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International, which has a project that transports dogs and cats from Iraq to the United States.

The group, however, had never attempted airlifting a donkey, which is more complicated because equines can’t be transported on traditional commercial aircraft and must go by cargo plane.

The donkey’s journey has provided laughter — and head scratching — along the way.

“People just couldn’t believe we were going to these great lengths to help a donkey because donkeys in that part of the world are so low down on the totem pole,” said the society’s Terri Crisp, who negotiated the donkey’s passage from Iraq to the United States. “Donkeys are not viewed as a companion animal. They’re viewed as a work animal.”

As frustrating as the journey sometimes was for those involved, including a week-long delay getting Smoke in to Turkey and another three weeks to get out, the donkey found friends and supporters along the way, Crisp said. They included the U.S. ambassador in Turkey, who at one point was getting daily updates.

“I think people did finally come to realize that this is one of these out-of the-ordinary situations. Once you met him and saw what a unique donkey he was, it was hard to say no to him,” Crisp said, describing Smoke as “gentle” and “mischievous” as well as a food-lover — carrots and apples in particular.

The journey, which started April 5, wasn’t cheap.

The society estimates it cost between $30,000 to $40,000 from start to finish, with expenses such as $150 to ship Smoke’s blood from Turkey to a U.S. Department of Agriculture lab in Iowa, $18,890 for a Lufthansa flight through Frankfurt, Germany and $400 a day for quarantine in New York. Folsom says he recognizes some people may be critical of the expense, which was paid for through donations, but he says he considers it payback for the donkey that was such a friend to Marines.

“Why do we spend billions of dollars of pet food in this country? Why do we do that?” Folsom said. “We love our animals. That’s why.”

Folsom saw the donkey for the first time in years Saturday when he arrived in New York to transport him to his new home in Omaha. By Saturday afternoon they had driven through Baltimore and were on their way to Warrenton, Va., for meet-and-greet with some fans. The journey to Omaha is expected to take two days, and Folsom said Smoke is already getting used to seeing big, green trees instead of desert.

“He’s an American donkey now,” Folsom said.

(Hat’s Off for the Good Guys!!!” – R.T.)

35 replies »

  1. SO SO SO VERY HAPPY the little Iraqi donkey is now “an American.” Yeah, these little fellas are not only considered “work animals” over there… I have read in many other accounts they are very much mistreated, too.
    WELCOME HOME, SMOKE!!!! Hope to hear some more about ya soon.


    • I just can’t imagine someone mistreating a creature with such a sweet face and soulful eyes. Smoke is one luck little guy.


  2. I guess not every Marine has off colored humor etc. That some actually have compassion. I suppose its hard though considering the climate that Marines live in and by. Perhaps Smoke can teach people by example. Therapy in this case does not just mean in the traditional sense–like visiting sick kids in a hospital setting. You can do therapy wherever you are by just being there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “You can do therapy wherever you are by just being there.”

      Isn’t that the truth!! Think of the last time you saw and petted a nice dog in public … No doubt you walked away with a smile on your face and a few more healthy endorphins in your bloodstream. Then your smile made someone else smile … We’re paying it forward every day in everything we do whether we mean to or not and the smiles and good thoughts garnered by Smoke will be therapy to those who meet him and those people around them. Pretty awesome stuff 🙂


      • I have a friend who regularly comes by to visit me. And she brings her therapy dog. He is a Burmese Mountain Dog. HE LOVES ME! He’ll sit at my feet and look up at my face with these adoring eyes.

        I think of therapy dogs as the ones who go into hospitals visiting sick kids but you know WE ALL need therapy of one sort or another.

        I was visiting a place that had dolphins–this was some years ago. And one of them was pregnant. She insisted on showing me her tummy. She wanted me to ooh and ahh her baby. See even she needed therapy!

        And your right–getting to play with someone else’s dog does make you feel lighter and better about yourself. You get all that love and it doesn’t cost you a thing. And then its so easy to go back to work or whatever–and all those good feelings you have just flow from you in a professional setting. People like people who have a bright aura about them. Well I guess I do!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. With all the bad news out there it is a shame the major news channels have not shown this wonderful story!!


    • Smoke may not have made it to the major networks yet, but he has over 44,000 entries on Google – and climbing! Bless you, Smoke, as you embark on your new life. And bless the Marines and all our servicemen and women for their acts of kindness and generosity. They’re tough when they need to be, but compassionate as well. I’m damned proud of each and every one!


  4. awesome story best wishes to smoke and his new job as therapy animal good work on the part of all involved in his comeing to america


      • Or some rancher dude would come uncork because someone dared to buy a bottle of water, place in a pail and allowed Smoke to drink it. Sad that some would deny such a basic necessity of life to others. What is this world coming to that people could actually deny any life access to water?

        By the way what was all that nonsense about the horses drinking water before 1970. Some law about water rights or something? They were talking about it in NV at that hearing the other day. I mean did the horses break some law BECAUSE they dared to drink water?

        That’s as pathetic as the old line about how the Pryor horses were off range and trespassing onto other Government lands. To be guilty of trespassing you need to make the person aware that to cross some line means they’ve trespassed. Does anyone here speak horse? To tell the horses that they’ve been trespassing??? What have they said in response? I hope its something to the effect of “Go Bleep Yourself”!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. What a delight to read this article this morning! Thanks, R.T. for sharing it with us and starting the day out with a smile. Blessed Be!


  6. Sometimes amid this world of cruelty and barabrism good things happen. Glad you made it out Smoke. I hope you have a long and happy life that all donks deserve. Donks are the best. CNN where is the story about Smoke?


  7. Send in the Marines! Great story for a Sunday morning–and cheers to the people who donated and persevered to get this little guy into the “home of the brave”. Now I wish we could send in the Marines to save OUR horses and burros right here in the USA , “the land of free”, where so many home-grown forces are waging war against them! Save one—SAVE THEM ALL.


  8. Good to hear more about the donkeys! We need to remember them in this battle. They are SO smart and affectionate.


  9. Wonderful for this little guy but I cant help but feel the irony that our own American Burros are rounded up harassed and murdered every day, what a pity these icons cant get the same recognition and press coverage 😦 Sigh ….

    Liked by 1 person

  10. What a Cool idea…MILK CARTONS….from AMERICAN HERDS article archives:

    In efforts to raise public awareness of the desperate plight over 30,000 of our wild horses and burros now face, on November 6th, 2007, Jerry Reynoldson, founder of Wild Horses-4 Ever and Anderson Dairy, a local Southern Nevada dairy farm, teamed up to announce the release of a limited edition milk carton with this drawing of a majestic mustang on its side to help promote BLMs Living Legacy Adoption Program.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Semper Fi and Ooooh Raaah Smoke!!! Welcome to the extended family of the United States Marine Corps and to the good ole’ USof A!! The Marines are known for their caring nature especially towards equuids of all types. During the Korean war there was a little “red” horse that carried supplies and weapons for them to the front lines and they brought her back to the West Coast after the war. Her name escapes me now, but my husband did a report on her for a class he had it Millington. You’d be amazed at how many Marines didn’t know about her. Anyway, I’m glad Smoke made it here.


  12. This is a story of one such horse and yes it is a shame that we do not acknowledge all of the animals and how they have helped our country and our soldiers, and gave thier lives for our freedoms.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I have been following this story from the beginning, and am overwhelmed with excitement for Smoke. While the soldiers may feel Smoke is unique in his character, it is common for people who have not been exposed to donkeys before to express a unexpected bonding with these wise, and kind animals. I am so happy Smoke will be used for a purpose he is so qualified to do. The donkey sanctuary in England has been using donkeys for therapy for decades with remarkable results. Due to their inherent empathic natures, donkeys seem to “know” exactly what is needed by those who need them, and they do respond accordingly. I hope they start a fan club for Smoke, I am willing to bet he will have many, many followers. Welcome home, Smoke!


  14. Those donkeys have a way of tugging at your heart! They couldn’t forget him and I totally understand as I have one. My uncle was a Marine and was in active combat in 3 wars. He just passed a couple years ago but he would have loved this story. I think Smoke will feel right at home on his new turf.


  15. Welcome to your new home, Smoke. And, God Bless the Marines for wanting to being him home. We also need to bring Lucy, the beautiful white dog that helped soldiers in TUrkey. She only has until the end of the month to get out. It will be too hot for her and when the servicemen leave her, she will be turned loose, probably to die of starvation and heat. Why is it we can’t bring our beloved “helpers” home with our military when they leave areas to return home? What a great day it would be to not only see our servicemen come home, but those animals that helped protect them and make them happy while so far away from home. This is another of our loving four legged animals helping us and there are so many wanting our horses, burros, donkeys, and even our cats and dogs that have lost homes to die a death, instead of finding new homes for them. What has the human race become? God Bless you Smoke and it’s great to have you here.


  16. Geri, WHAT a great story and a GREAT HORSE! Sgt. Reckless needs special recognition on Memorial Day.


  17. Oh! how happy days and nights for these treasures that bring so much joy and love into our lives. God bless them and the owners for all they do. I would love to meet
    Smoke and to personally thank him for all of the work and love that he will give to
    the children and the many men and women who will need tender, loving care. I would put my arms around his neck and whisper into his ear, how proud I am of him and all that he is about to do. He has a special place in all of our hearts!!
    Thank you Col.Folsom for your hard work in getting Smoke here. Our country needs some good and kindness if we are to survive all of this.
    God Bless America, God Bless the troops and God Bless Smoke and the Co.


Care to make a comment?

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.