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Palo Alto community steps in to help Perry, inspiration for donkey in "Shrek"

Palo Alto helping pay medical bills for Perry, inspiration for donkey in 'Shrek'
Palo Alto helping pay medical bills for Perry, inspiration for donkey in 'Shrek' 03:18

PALO ALTO — The inspiration behind a beloved American film character lives in Palo Alto. But as Perry the donkey ages, his medical bills grow with him.

Perry the donkey is familiar to many. He served as the real-life model for Dreamworks' 2001 film "Shrek."

"In 1999 he reinvented himself as a movie star," Mike Holland, one of Perry's 30 volunteer handlers told CBS News Bay Area.

"Dreamworks contracted with Pacific Data Images to create all the models [for "Shrek"] and the lead designer lives here in Barron Park and he was going through his models and he said 'I know where there's a donkey.' So, they came here and studied Perry. When you're looking at the body and the donkey in 'Shrek,' that's his body or it was back in 2001, 1999."

Perry's entered his golden years, his 30th birthday is on June 9 and the medical bills are starting to add up.

"They're getting older, they've got what the vet refers to as old man problems," Holland explained. "The increasing medical demands it's pushing up to $25,000 for the three of them, and $15k for the additional unexpected medical demands that they've all three of them have had. We're at a critical junction," said Holland.

Support for Perry, along with pals April and Buddy, are entirely community generated, aside from a 2016 grant from the city of $15,000.

That's in large part because they're a staple of the Barron Park community.

"We have grandparents who remember playing with the donkeys as kids bringing their grandchildren now, so this is not new. This is going back at least 70 years,75 years, so it's a neighborhood tradition," said Holland.

In addition to selling their own merchandise and even compost, the donkeys rely on donations.

That's when the city of Palo Alto stepped in offering to match community donations of up to $10,000 in a one-time grant.

So far, they've matched $4,000 and Mayor Greer Stone said in a statement to CBS News Bay Area that the grant "is a small investment with a big return realized in the form of smiles on children's faces, outdoor education opportunities, and increased wellbeing for our entire community. We welcome everyone to come to Bol Park and see our beloved donkeys."

But some see the expense as unnecessary. In a recent city council meeting on May 20, council member Greg Tanaka said he didn't think this was the best use of their discretionary funds.

"I have to object giving $10,000. This year we have a deficit; this year we'll have a deficit next year," he said. "It just seems irresponsible to me, so I don't support this and I don't think we should be doing it right now when we're losing money."

But Stone argues they have to put that discretionary pot to use before the next fiscal year.

"There's about $77,000 in the council contingency; it expires July 1 and does not roll over. It's a great opportunity for the community to interact with these wonderful animals," said Stone.

For Holland, he can't see a world without these donkeys, a lineage that's been in the community since the '50s, providing a uniquely Bay Area kind of emotional support for neighbors.

"I can't imagine this not happening I'm not the first person to volunteer here and certainly won't be the last," he said. "It's a lot of fun and we have dozens of people come visit here every day it's a real tradition funny neighborhood tradition."

The city has set a deadline of June 23 for patrons to match their grant funds.

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