SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


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.

jgp Bill Blackwell and his ponies

Bill Blackwell & His Ponies
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 impossible!

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 no exception.

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.

jpg Keizer, Primalee and horse

Jackie Keizer, Shadow and Primalee.
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 red barn!

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 hospital.

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 friend.

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.

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, Joni Libert.

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 from Kenai.

Joni Libert a specialist from Kenai, Primalee Blackwell and Jackie Keizer, teacher, neighbor and mentor. Libert is instructing Primalee and Jackie on trimming techniques.
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 night stay.

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 exams.

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 process.

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 donkey.
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:

Primalee Blackwell
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]

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