Forever Home Donkey Rescue in Arizona gives unwanted and mischievous pets a second chance
If you live in Arizona and you run an ad in the newspaper proposing to adopt unwanted donkeys, beware: you are going to get a lot of responses.
In 1997, Tish and John Hiestand discovered it the hard way. Tish had grown up around horses in Texas and by the late 90s had moved about an hour east of Tucson to rural Arizona. Her husband bought her a donkey named BlackJack for her birthday that year. They found a mate in BlackJack, but the new donkey had health issues and the Hiestands had to euthanize him. With BlackJack alone again, the Hiestands decided to adopt another friend and released an ad.
“I’ll never do this again,” Tish said. “People were like, ‘If you can catch them, you can have them. She and John adopted three donkeys from that original commercial, and they quickly realized something: the West is full of unwanted donkeys.
“Donkeys have no value in this part of the country,” Tish says. If a donkey gets sick or needs to chop off its feet or float its teeth, owners won’t pay to do it. In fact, there are so many donkeys in the West that it’s easier to get a new one.
Suddenly, the Hiestands went from occasional equine owners to operating a sanctuary for unwanted animals. Twenty-five years later, their 10-acre ranch, now called Forever Home Donkey Rescue, is a nonprofit home to dozens of donkeys recovering from illness or abuse or simply enjoying a new stable home.
Overgrown with burros
Anyone who has taken a road trip to the Southwestern United States is likely familiar with the herds of wild asses that roam the nationally managed lands in Nevada, Arizona, and California. There’s also Oatman, Arizona, a Route 66 ghost town overrun with burros. With their sanctuary, the Hiestands defend a much maligned, often misunderstood animal, inextricably linked to the history of the United States and, indeed, to the development of human civilization.
Donkeys have been used as pack animals since the civilizations of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. They were used by miners and other settlers in the West, but as the mining industry dried up, many were abandoned.
In the 1950s, Velma B. Johnston, known by the nickname “Wild Horse Annie”, drew public attention to the fact that donkeys and wild horses were being hunted indiscriminately on public lands. A 1971 law granted the two animals federal protection status and asked the Bureau of Land Management to control them. Today, donkeys are kept as pets or used for low-value activities such as tug-of-war. still roam freely on nationally managed lands. The Bureau of Land Management regularly locks them up in pens and experiments with population control tactics, including fertility-reducing vaccines.
A forever home
I visit Forever Home Donkey Rescue on a blinding hot November morning. Driving east on Interstate 10 from Tucson, the flat, whitewashed landscape scrolls past in coral and dusty hues. The Rescue is located on the same street as a Wild West inspired movie studio; the Hiestands welcome visitors for free tours from Tuesday to Sunday morning. Throughout the summer, many donkeys had to stay in their pens because they gorged themselves on the petty beans that litter the 10 acres of the Hiestands. On the day I visited, Tish again let them roam free for about two weeks.
Donkeys come in three different sizes (miniature, juvenile, and mammoth) and 46 purebred breeds, but many of the animals at the sanctuary are mixtures. BlackJack is black and fuzzy, which means he’s probably partly French. Poitou, a breed that nearly died out after WWII when a starving population began to eat them. Some of the Hiestands donkeys are Bureau of Land Management animals that have been herded and put up for adoption, while others are ranch or farm rescues.
Tish, wearing patterned pajama pants featuring Eeyore, the famous dark donkey, walks from paddock to paddock, waving to donkeys as their hissing breeches honk above the paddocks. Donkeys wag their velvety ears, ask for cookies and show their rumps to solicit scratching. Tish describes two jennies (female donkeys) as “best friends for life” and jokes that Gus, a male donkey (or jack), “thinks this place is being exploited for his benefit”.
Some donkeys still bear traces of their previous life. Boaz had a damaged lump of flesh on his leg for three years when he arrived at the shrine; Casper, a mini-mule, had never been neutered and had a barn sale three times in three months when his buyers kept sending him back for being aggressive. Another donkey had to wear shoes on her crooked front legs after being kept in the paddock where she was born all her life.
Nine donkeys at the shrine are permanent residents, Tish says, while more are currently in the process of adoption. Some of the donkeys ready for adoption also take day trips or work out of town: they appear in movies or parade in local parades, although the latter can be a problem when donkeys show their way. mischievous nature.
“We were once behind a float in a parade and I swear I thought that donkey was going to eat everything before we were done,” says Tish.
The Hiestands want their dedication to their donkeys to survive them: They formed a nonprofit organization early last year so that their core team of volunteers could one day take over the shrine. Because, despite their work and that of other sanctuaries like Peaceful Valley Donkey in Texas, there will always be donkeys that need a home. Tish says she answers calls about a donkey in need almost every day.
“Civilizations were built on the backs of donkeys,” she says. “People say they’re stubborn and stupid, but I think donkeys are one of the most misunderstood animals on the planet. “
If you are going to
Forever Home Donkey Rescue and Sanctuary is open for morning tours Tuesday through Sunday. To schedule a visit, call 520.212.5300 or email [email protected]