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The Plight of the Famed Coral Bay Donkeys

The Plight of the Famed Coral Bay Donkeys

Coral Bay Donkey
Photo by William Stelzer

Although Coral Bay, St. John has been utterly devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria, there is no question that this resilient Caribbean town will spring back better and stronger than ever. Scratch below the surface of the bayside bars and snorkel tour outfits and you will find a cowboy spirit as tough and independent as anything found in the American West. If you know the history of the area, it makes perfect sense.

That’s why Carolina Corral, the make-shift ranch tucked down a dirt road behind Skinny Legs Bar and Burger Grill, a No Shoes Nation institution, is not as out of place as it might seem. Instead, the corral is a seamless blending of two histories – one from the rolling hills of Ohio, the other from St. John’s not so distant past.

St. John Cattle

Corral Bay??

Decades before tourism became the predominant industry in the 1950s, cattle from St. John were prized for their beef. Some maintain that Coral Bay is a mispronunciation of Corral Bay, an homage to the island’s old cattle ranching industry. The origin of the town’s name is debatable, but we do know that live cattle were waded out into the bay and loaded onto ships by block and tackle for export to St. Thomas, Tortola, and throughout the Caribbean.

There is no mystery about Carolina Corral owner Dana Bartlett’s past, however. Donkey Dana grew up on a farm in Creston, Ohio in a rural area with a population about the same size as Coral Bay’s. Growing up around ranchers and horses, plus ten years of 4-H, taught Dana about the proper care of livestock. Her upbringing along with her love and respect for animals led Dana to open her combination trail ride business and animal rescue stable two years after she moved to St. John in 1991.

More Than Donkeys

Dana Bartlett Carolina Corral
Photo by Bill Stelzer

Dana’s mission has been to provide homes for animals, particularly horses, who were either born on the islands or imported from the states. Dana has rescued several thoroughbreds purchased for the racetracks of Puerto Rico and St. Thomas. These horses either aged out or had temperament problems and would have otherwise been destroyed. Racehorses that have passed through Dana’s stables have included the progeny of Man o’War and Seattle Slew. Dana’s other rescues have including donkeys, sheep, goats, cats, dogs, chickens, ducks, and deer. Hundreds of animals have passed through her care over 25 years in business. Dana provides the only option for large animal rescue on St. John.

Like the majority of Coral Bay’s residents, Dana lost everything in Irma and Maria. Her car, the tiny home which she built on the site of the corral, the stables and chicken coops were all destroyed. Without any other option, Dana loosed her horses, donkeys, and sheep before the height of Irma. Miraculously, everyone survived except for a beloved donkey named Rodney. A testament to the instinct of animals.

Dana sheltered her chickens and cats in a van. Apparently, the chickens and cats called a truce because not a feather or whisker was harmed. The cats and birds ended up far more protected than Dana who took refuge in a friend’s house whose roof blew off.

Donkeys Carolina Corral
Photo by Bill Stelzer

Over the years, Dana and her animals have become an integral part of local fundraising events from her Donkey Softball tournaments, where softball players are tied to donkeys as they run the bases and field balls, to Santa’s arrival at the Bizarre Bazaar atop a cart pulled by donkeys. Other efforts include her Donkey Mobile and The Daily Donkey. Ms. Bartlett is ever resourceful in finding a way to feed and care for her animals.

How to Help

Now, Dana is set to the task of rebuilding. Like the rest of Coral Bay, she has plans to come out of this disaster better and stronger. In the immediate future, Dana needs people-hours donated to construct temporary shelters for the animals. In the long term, she plans to rebuild her tiny home and the chicken coops which provided fresh eggs to the community, construct a new barn and stables, and to install cisterns to water the animals. Income from tourism and her trail rides will not return for months. With over a $100 in feed per day needed, Dana can’t provide for her animals without you. To help, please visit the Carolina Corral GoFundMe campaign. Beyond funds and supplies, volunteers can also be used. Now that communications have been partially restored, you can contact Dana directly for details about donating your time to Carolina Corral.

The future is unknown, but I’d bet on the survival of Carolina Corral. Donkey Dana always pulls through with the support of folks like you. Thank y’all!

Catherine Turner
Catherine TurnerCatherine Turner is a freelance writer and editor formerly based in the Virgin Islands. Her contributions have appeared in many publications including the St. John Tradewinds, Caribbean Travel and Life, Onboard Online Magazine, and the Elephant Journal. In a former incarnation, Catherine was a nightclub owner and a resort showgirl. A lifetime ago, she spent a decade chained to a desk as a computer programmer/data analyst. Catherine recently completed her first novel Carnival Carib. See more of her work at catherineturner.media

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