A boat is probably the last place you’d expect to find a donkey, but it’s the perfect fit for Buddy.
The miniature donkey, owned by Jimmy and Debora Miller of Mattituck, took home the prize for Best Mascot during the Great North Harbor Tug Boat Race in New York City earlier this month.
The Millers’ tugboat, also named the Debora Miller, didn’t do too shabbily, either. The boat earned first place in its race division.
The Millers purchased the 79-foot boat last year for Mr. Miller’s Port Jeff-based business, Miller Marine Services. While this was the couple’s second year in the competition, Buddy shined in his debut.
In the past, dogs, hermit crabs and even a chicken have vied for the mascot title. But until this year, no one involved in the event had ever seen a donkey mascot.
“The judge came over to make sure he was real and not animatronic,” Ms. Miller said. “Everyone walked over to see him, people from other boats.”
Buddy is used to the attention. A local celebrity in his own right, he has made television appearances; visited libraries, churches, local shops and nursing homes; and participated in programs for special needs children and adults. He even goes caroling at Christmastime.
Buddy hasn’t let it all go to his head. According to his “mom,” he’s most at home when strolling with his pasture mates — a dog, three horses and a potbellied pig — at the couple’s Mattituck home.
Two years ago, Ms. Miller, a member of the East End Ass Whisperers, a group of local women dedicated to rescuing donkeys, saved Buddy from being bought at auction by a slaughterhouse.
Since then, Buddy has become a regular at St. Patrick’s Day, Fourth of July, Halloween and Christmas parades. For him, the tugboat ride was just another day at the office. On race day, he remained as cool as a cucumber.
Buddy rode into Staten Island in his trailer and was then gently placed aboard the Debora Miller using a cargo net and a boom. The onlookers, choppy waters, acceleration of the engines and the honking of the tug’s foghorn didn’t faze him one bit. He calmly ate his hay and observed the chaos around him. And his owners were sure to provide him with a private stall with mats and railings, hay, water and grain.
“He may not have appreciated the majesty of the Statue of Liberty or the skyline of New York, but he got to see it all from his lofty perch,” said family friend and fellow Ass Whisperer Cathleen Springer, who also attended the race. “He happily wore his sailor hat and life preserver all day.”
Accompanied by applause and cheers, both the Millers and Buddy were presented their awards at the 42nd Street pier in Manhattan. Once the crowds dispersed and the passengers disembarked, Buddy calmly walked into the middle of the cargo net, which was carefully raised, before boarding the trailer for his ride back to the barn.