A Tail of Hearts United For
Animals In Need
By Marie L. Monyak
April 21, 2006
Ketchikan, Alaska - In Ketchikan, people tell and retell stories
and occasionally they become distorted in the retelling. Locals
and tour guides alike repeat the misinformation until it becomes
accepted as fact. For years stories have been told about the
Blackwell's that live on the corner of Deermount and Fair Streets
next to City Park and much of it has been incorrect.
Bill and Darlene Blackwell had been raising their extended family
on Deermount Street for many years, along with their numerous
family pets and it's come to be known as the Blackwell Farm.
Bill Blackwell &
Photograph by Gigi Pilcher - November 2002
It's been said that the Blackwell's took in foster children or
that all of their children are adopted which isn't exactly correct.
Many people think the smallest of the three horses is the foal
of the two larger ponies but since they're all males it's quite
In fact, when Bill and Darlene married they each had children
from previous marriages and it wasn't long before they opened
their hearts and began adopting children from India. Never once
becoming official foster parents or receiving state funds, the
Blackwell's never turned away local children that needed a place
to stay whether they were troubled youths, from broken homes,
or for any other reason and they always treated the children
like their own.
Through the years, pets were added to the ever growing mix. Besides
the family dogs, there were ducks, a Shetland pony, Pygmy goats,
Miniature horses, and a miniature donkey. Some have passed on
and others joined the family.
Currently there are two shy white ducks that share the front
yard with the family dogs and two playful Pygmy goats that go
by the names of Bernard and Lucky in the corral. It's easy to
tell the goats apart since Bernard is mostly white and Lucky,
the greyer of the two, has the toothiest smile ever seen on a
goat! They love attention and will begin to rear up and dance
on their hind legs, occasionally head butting one another. Goats
are usually known as being mischievous and these two are certainly
In the Blackwell family, the
story goes that Darlene Blackwell was a petite woman, rarely
weighing over 98 pounds. Always complaining to her husband that
she didn't have the curvaceous backside she envied on other women,
her thoughtful husband bought her the very thing she always said
she wanted, an ass, and that's how the miniature donkey named
Moonshine came to the Blackwell family!
Sharing the corral with Bernard, Lucky and Moonshine are three
miniature horses, often called ponies or thought of as foals
due to their size; they are in fact full grown. Many a tour guide
has pointed out the newborn foal to their passengers or parents
point out the "baby horse" to their children. Although
very small even by miniature horse standards, Oly the sorrel
(reddish-brown) is the smallest of the three and just happens
to be the oldest!
Oly's two younger friends are also miniature horses; the dun
(tan) with the beautiful dark face, mane and tail is Sandy and
the black with the bright white star on his forehead is Shadow.
Like many Ketchikan residents, they are happiest when the sun
is shining and can be found on bright days lying on the warm
earth against the building where they benefit from the direct
rays of the infrequent sun.
Jackie Keizer, Shadow
Photograph by Marie L. Monyak
For over 10 years the people of Ketchikan have been delighted
by the sight of the horses, goats, ducks and lone donkey that
are the family pets of the Blackwell's. There are neighbors that
like to stroll over to the fence and offer treats to the friendly
animals, and there are those locals whose gardens have benefited
from the results of the horse's hay and grain diet. Many a teenager
or young adult has a photo album with a picture of themselves
with the ponies. Others just like to stop and visit.
Bill Blackwell has given freely of his time through the years
to give pony rides to local children, many of them now in high
school. Tour busses slow down daily to allow visitors a look
at the charming menagerie during the tourist season and locals
find it impossible not to glance over as they drive by hoping
for a glimpse of one of the horses or other endearing animals.
But tragedy struck in May two
years ago when Darlene Blackwell passed away. Bill was left to
care for the few children still living at home; he took on the
job of running the household and continued to tend to all the
animals. He built a new red barn or more correctly, a new miniature
It appeared that the Blackwell family would carry on and then
tragedy struck again earlier this year when Bill, diagnosed with
an illness that required medical treatments, temporarily moved
to his eldest daughter's home in Washington to be close to the
Primalee, one of the youngest adopted children from India was
only 18 at the time that Bill had to go to Washington. Just beginning
a relationship and having recently given birth to a sweet baby
boy, Primalee had to move back into the family home to care for
her younger brother and all of the family pets.
With her mother recently passed away and no one to turn to with
the many questions all young mothers have, Primalee had taken
on the huge responsibility of caring not only for her newborn
but an entire household and small farm.
Mucking the stalls, cleaning the corral, feeding and watering
over 10 animals, brushing the horses, donkey, goats and dogs
was a full time job for Primalee along with caring for her newborn
and watching over her younger brother, running the household,
cooking, cleaning and shopping. All this, without a mother's
guidance or help.
Recently, Moonshine the miniature
donkey began to show signs of a problem and walked with a pronounced
limp. The chance that Moonshine was about to founder was a real
possibility. Primalee had little experience in animal husbandry
other than feeding and grooming so she turned to her mentor and
Enter teacher extraordinaire
Jackie Keizer from Revilla High School who had taught all 5 of
the adopted Blackwell children. Keizer was not only a mentor
to Primalee but also a neighbor who lived close by. Hearing of
Primalee's plight and seeing the condition of Moonshine, Keizer
got on the phone and contacted everyone in Ketchikan who might
know anyone with experience with horses or hoofed animals, all
to no avail.
Not to be deterred, Keizer
went to her computer and let her fingers fly over the keyboard
visiting website after website, learning all she could about
the care of equine hooves. With the knowledge that she couldn't
perform the work of a professional and knowing that Moonshine
required immediate attention, Keizer contacted several farriers.
Joni Libert a specialist
from Kenai, Primalee Blackwell and Jackie Keizer, teacher, neighbor
and mentor. Libert is instructing Primalee and Jackie on trimming
Primalee and Keizer were rapidly gaining knowledge about horses
and donkeys; none of the Blackwell horses or Moonshine are shod
since they aren't ridden and a farriers job is to shoe horses.
Still not discouraged, Keizer continued her search and happened
upon a specialist in Kenai; Certified Barefoot Hoof Specialist,
For the non-equine set, an unshod hoof or as it's more commonly
called, the barefoot hoof, is gaining in popularity among horse
owners and trainers. Certified, and with years of experience,
especially with miniature breeds, Libert agreed to fly to Ketchikan
Photograph by Marie L. Monyak
The next problem Primalee and Keizer had to overcome was the
exorbitant cost of the Alaska Airlines round trip ticket; $835!
Besides the ticket, there was Libert's fee of $45 to $65 per
animal but fortunately, Libert had generously agreed to accept
whatever the pair could pay or waive her fee altogether. Keizer
would gladly host Libert as her houseguest for the one or two
On Friday, April 7th, Libert landed in Ketchikan, came across
on the ferry and went straight to work. Poor little Moonshine,
usually so friendly, wasn't at all happy about having his sore
feet touched. After hours of work, with Primalee and Keizer holding
Moonshine, Libert had trimmed away enough of the old overgrown
hoof that the miniature donkey was walking with barely a limp.
Early the next day the trio was at it again, this time working
on Oly, Sandy and Shadow. Hours passed with Libert explaining
everything she was doing, teaching Primalee as though she were
her student. Handing her tools to Primalee, Libert directed the
young women on the proper way to clean the hooves with instructions
to perform the ritual daily to prevent future problems and infections.
Primalee hung on her every word as though preparing for college
When the time came to do further work on Moonshine, the three
women had their hands full with one highly intelligent and very
stubborn donkey. Not wanting to unduly distress Moonshine on
Friday afternoon, Libert had only trimmed a portion of the sore
hoof allowing time for Moonshine to rest and begin the healing
Anyone who knows anything about donkeys can tell you they're
extremely intelligent and have exceptional memories far beyond
that of a horse. That strong memory was obvious on Saturday morning
when Primalee, Keizer and Libert began to work on Moonshine who
struggled harder as he knew what to expect. With Primalee and
Keizer holding the halter and lead, Libert began to trim away
at the affected hoof.
Moonshine the miniature
Photograph by Marie L. Monyak
With great tenderness and patience, Primalee spoke quietly to
Moonshine, never stopping, constantly reassuring him and stroking
his neck. Whenever Moonshine saw his chance to escape he would
bolt but Primalee never let go of the lead even when Moonshine
knocked her flat in the mud and walked over her.
After many hours the job was
done, the three miniature horses sported brand new trims and
Moonshine's limp was barely noticeable. Libert instructed Primalee
in the proper feeding of the animals after noticing their excess
weight. No one could say they're underfed! Unfortunately, far
too many well meaning neighbors and friends enjoy feeding treats
such as apples and carrots to the horses and donkey, adding to
their considerable girth.
Libert said she had some minor concerns about some of the animals
and recommended that they all receive a check-up by a large animal
doctor. Keizer mentioned that the doctor who replaces our local
veterinarian during his yearly summer vacation was a licensed
large animal vet but the cost may prove to be prohibitive as
the women already had to find a way to repay the cost of Libert's
plane ticket that Keizer had put on her charge card. Primalee
and Keizer also want to find a way to compensate Libert for her
time and effort; after all, it isn't often that a person gives
up approximately $300 of their hard earned wages!
As if that isn't enough, Moonshine in particular, will need at
least one more professional trimming of his hooves to correct
the original problem. Knowing that the cost of the extra care
of her animals is mounting rapidly at a time when her family
is besieged with her father's medical bills, Primalee is hard
pressed to find a solution. Primalee's father, Bill Blackwell
just returned home to Ketchikan recently for a short visit before
he has to return to Washington for more medical treatments. He's
resting at home but unable to tend to the animals which he wants
to do more than anything.
The care of any pet can be expensive but hoofed farm animals
have unique needs quite different from the usual house pet and
the costs rise accordingly.
Keizer once again came to Primalee's rescue with the suggestion
that a small fundraiser would be just the answer. Unlike most
fundraisers with goals in the tens of thousands of dollars, Keizer
is hoping to raise enough to pay the debt to Libert, the plane
ticket, a veterinarian visit for all the animals this summer
and one additional visit by Libert.
If people of Ketchikan are wondering what they can do to help
the Blackwell's and their little farm in their time of need,
with Keizer's help the Alaska Pacific Bank has set up a "Pony
Fund" under Primalee's name. (They just couldn't open an
account under a donkey's name!) Anyone wishing to show their
appreciation for the years of joy these adorable animals have
brought to the people of Ketchikan by helping financially may
do so by sending a check made payable to:
Write "Pony Fund" on the memo line.
Drop off or mail to:
Alaska Pacific Bank
2442 Tongass Avenue
Ketchikan AK 99901
Checks can also be dropped
off at the Alaska Pacific Bank branch on 410 Mission St.
Checks can also be dropped off at Revilla High School Front Office.
The people of Ketchikan are
known for their generosity and kindness and it's because of those
wonderful qualities that it should be mentioned that Moonshine,
Oly, Sandy, Shadow, Bernard and Lucky are overweight and there
is a fear that in an effort to help, people may begin to bring
food or treats to the animals. Hoofed animals can suffer from
certain deformities and hoof problems as a result of overeating
or an unhealthy diet. The recommended diet for them is just good
quality hay which they're receiving and while it may not seem
very appetizing to people, it is exactly the diet needed for
one very special donkey and three adorable miniature horses.
Marie L. Monyak is
a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
A freelance writer is an uncommitted independent writer
who produces and sells articles to a publisher such as SitNews.
For freelance writing services and costs contact Marie at mlmx1[at]hotmail.com
Send your story ideas
to editor@sitnews us
Publish A Letter on SitNews Read Letters/Opinions
Contact the Editor
Stories In The News