Smoke the Donkey Cover

Smoke the Donkey

A Marine’s Unlikely Friend

Cate Folsom

Potomac Books, Lincoln, Nebraska, 2016, 288 pages

Book Review published on: April 17, 2020

Smoke the Donkey: A Marine’s Unlikely Friend recounts the true story of how Col. John Folsom befriends a donkey named Smoke in Iraq and eventually brings him back to the United States. Author Cate Folsom is John Folsom’s wife, and she writes a very thorough account that includes interviews with her husband and all the people involved in bringing Smoke to the United States.

Folsom was deployed to Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps in 2008. After his commanding general jokingly suggested catching a wild donkey, Folsom decided that a wild donkey would make a great mascot for his unit. The donkey became a popular attraction for the marines on base and ultimately developed into a therapy animal.

A problem arose when Folsom’s deployment was about to end, and he needed to decide what to do with Smoke. He was unable to arrange to have Smoke sent to the United States, so Folsom entrusted Smoke’s care to the next group of marines arriving at camp. Two years later, Folsom found out that Smoke had been given to an Iraqi sheik.

The second part of the book follows Folsom’s struggles to bring Smoke to the United States. Cate Folsom goes into detail about the difficulties in transporting an animal to the United States. The red tape required by every country seemed insurmountable, and Cate Folsom attempts to keep readers in suspense with the financial, medical, and bureaucratic issues that arose. However, the long and tedious account of the details dampens the suspense.

The final part details Smoke’s arrival in the United States as a celebrity and his subsequent tour around the country. After the fanfare dissipated, Smoke transitioned into a successful therapy animal for veterans. The book ends with Smoke’s death due to acute peritonitis from a perforation in his intestine.

Smoke the Donkey effectively explains the importance of developing personal relationships at every step along the way when one completes a monumental task. Without these relationships, the roadblocks in bringing Smoke to the United States would have been impossible to overcome. However, the author makes short shrift of the true hero of the story, Terri Crisp, the international SPCA representative who did the grunt work to bring Smoke to the country. Without her assistance, there would have been no story. Nonetheless, the book is a testimony to the therapeutic nature of animals and how they can assist both during war and in the emotional and psychological aftermath.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Michael Jones, U.S. Marine Corps, Retired, Fort Belvoir, Virginia