community connections
Little Brays of Sunshine
Bikes, strollers, inline skaters, dogs,
horses—think you’ve seen it all on a
trail? You probably haven’t, unless you’ve
recently been on the Wallkill Valley
Rail Trail in the Hudson Valley area of
upstate New York. That’s where Steve
Stiert takes his miniature donkeys for
Some of the most fun is watching
people’s faces as they approach from a
distance,” Stiert says. “You can see in
their face and body gestures that they’re
really confused as to what the heck that
animal is that they’re approaching. First,
they think it could be a dog… a big
dog… but then they see the ears and
they’re still a little confused until they
get closer.”
Through Little Brays of Sunshine,
the organization he founded in 2012,
Stiert raises the 3-foot-tall donkeys on
his property in Ulster Park and takes the
gentle creatures to visit places where a
warm muzzle may bring a smile. He uses
the trail walks to train the donkeys for
social interactions, and to prepare their
volunteer handlers.
The donkeys are very affectionate,
sometimes putting their head on a
visitor’s shoulder in a silent plea for a
scratch behind the ears. “They’re dog-
like in terms of their behavior. They
bond with people,” Stiert says. Their
sweet dispositions led him to the idea of
using the animals for therapy.
He was inspired by Thera-Pets, a
miniature donkey farm a few hours
north in the town of Peru that aims to
improve human health through the
use of farm animals.” Little Brays of
Sunshine has visited a nursing home, a
special education school, and a nature
center. A local college recently looked
into having Stiert’s donkeys drop by to
provide stress relief for its students dur-
ing finals week.
After learning about the donkeys
from his daughter, a science major, he
spent months researching the animals
before deciding to buy his first pair. It’s
been more than a year since, and Stiert
says “not a day has gone by that I’ve
regretted it.”
Stiert now has seven animals, includ-
ing an adorable foal born in March. His
property stretches out over a few acres
dotted with silver maples and a beautiful
oak tree. When the donkeys roam about,
it’s not uncommon for people driving
through the neighborhood to stop the
car and stare. Stiert welcomes them in,
calling his home Donkey Park.
In their first encounter with minia-
ture donkeys, according to Stiert, people
usually say, “They’re cute.” But, he adds,
The most common question I get is:
Do they kick? Do they bite?’ Soon peo-
ple realize that that’s not the nature of
the animal. They see how calm they are.”
Rail-trails are well-suited for training
the little donkeys. Stiert says the Wallkill
Valley Rail Trail “is graded, so it’s an easy
hike, and it provides exposure to lots
of people.” Next on his list to try is the
Hudson Valley Rail Trail, which con-
nects to the Walkway Over the Hudson,
a landmark rail-trail spanning more than
a mile over the river.
He would like to expand the pro-
gram, but needs volunteers willing to
invest at least a couple hours a week to
help. He is considering starting a hik-
ing club to take the donkeys for walks.
Stiert, who does the therapy visits for
free, says, “The donkeys are for the com-
munity, helping people enjoy life one
bray at a time.”
To learn more about Little Brays of
Sunshine therapy sessions or volunteer
opportunities, visit
Pal: A Man’s Best Friend
The City of York’s portion of
Pennsylvania’s Heritage Rail Trail
County Park is relaxing and scenic,
winding along the Codorus Creek, into
downtown, and through the city’s his-
torical neighborhoods. But as travelers
approach King Street, they are often sur-
prised when they come upon a friendly
dog lying in the grass.
It’s so lifelike,” says Jim Gross, direc-
tor of the York Department of Public
Works, about the sculpture.
The gentle nature of miniature donkeys
makes them a good fit for therapy work.