Crossroads Rescue Saving Doomed Donkeys
By Dianne Alward-Biery
Cleaver Staff Writer
Copyright Clare County Cleaver
HARRISON – At one time, Fran D'Angela was committed to rescuing dogs and cats, and found that work to be rewarding. But then she acquired her first donkey – and her future changed forever. In fact, she still has that first donkey, Brutus, now estimated to be about 20 years old. He was the first of what D'Angela recalls as "quite a few" donkeys that fell into the "special attachment/characters" category.
D'Angela took some time to speak with the Cleaver last Sunday, and explained how her efforts to save donkeys became Crossroads Donkey Rescue which she founded in 1998. It officially became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2002, an entity she describes as an effort by women from across the state to foster and place rescued donkeys.
The original focus of Crossroads is Michigan and surrounding states, but D'Angela recently learned of the plight of donkeys in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. She said they would be brought to auction houses, but not go through the auction. Instead, kill buyers would pick them up and haul them straight to Mexico for slaughter.
"This was very disturbing to us," she said.
D'Angela said she works with a rescue in Mississippi to secure those animals.
The thing that spurs D'Angela on the most is her desire to do what she can to stop donkeys from being sent to slaughter. Sadly, she said that when the kill buyers purchase donkeys with foals, the mothers are taken but the foals simply are left to die.
"It's extremely inhumane, and I don't know if there's any way to stop it," D'Angela said. "Instead of buying from the kill buyers, now we're trying to do what we call 'auction intercept' and we try to get the donkeys before they get to the kill buyers."
She said often when there's a mom and a baby, the mom is pregnant again, so when they save two donkeys, they actually get three. D'Angela said some of the animals also have come to Crossroads through the Bureau of Land Management, which rounds up wild donkeys and horses. The animals are run through auctions, and if they go through three times without being purchased they are sent to slaughter.
"It's three strikes and they're out," D'Angela said. "We have had some of them."
She also mentioned some of the smaller donkey rescues springing up across the country: Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue in Texas; Longhopes Donkey Shelter in Colorado; and Turning Pointe Donkey Reserve in Michigan's Ingham County.
D'Angela, whose farm is located east of Harrison, is not alone in her efforts; she shares the load with fellow donkey rescuer Amy Morris whose farm is near Clare. She said that currently there are more than 120 animals [donkeys, mules, horses, one cow and one pig] shared between the two sites, with the donkeys ranging from 4-5 months to the very old. Stan, who was estimated to be 40 years old, was one of the oldest of the approximately 50 donkeys at the Harrison farm. Unfortunately, the recent cold weather proved too much for Stan and he succumbed.
"That's why we could really use some help," she said. "It's a lot for two people to care for."
Both males and females [jacks and jennies] are rescued, and D'Angela said it works out best, for the most part, to keep them housed separately. Thus, she harbors mostly jacks, and the jennies head to Clare. D'Angela said all the jacks who are healthy enough for the surgery are neutered. That expense is reduced somewhat by use of veterinary students from Michigan State University who participate as part of their studies. She said a local veterinarian generously has donated that service as well.
"They originated in the desert," D'Angela said. "And they eat a lot of things horses can't eat, so they can survive on less."
Many of the donkeys that come to Crossroads have been ill-cared for, if cared for at all, and theyoften have horribly overgrown hooves. The milder cases result in hooves that are shaped like an Aladdin's slipper, and the worst can actually circle up and back over toward the leg. D'Angela held up some of the hooves which had to be sawn off, like small tree branches. One actually looped around itself twice, resembling the classic Ripley's Believe It or Not photo of the man with the world's longest fingernails. That thick hoof, however, came from a miniature donkey. The charm of the tiny donkeys makes them appealing, but sometimes people fail to do provide them with even the simplest health maintenance.
One little donkey onsite, Lefty, has suffered permanent damage due to poor hoof care and now stands with difficulty, often leaning against a gate or fence to relieve pressure on that hoof.
D'Angela said donkeys are exceptional guard animals, because they have a great protective instinct and will not hesitate to take on a wolf or coyote. Such guard donkeys are among the Crossroads rescues as well, because the guard donkey often is left with the flock/herd, but is not given proper care, such as hoof trimming.
Among the roughly 50 donkeys adopted out of Crossroads each year, some go to work as guard donkeys. However, D'Angela always makes certain the future owners understand the care needs they must shoulder.
D'Angela's refuge sits on 40 acres, most of which is open to the donkeys. The wide open spaces may be appealing in fair weather, but when it's so bitterly cold as of late, the donkeys are held in large pens with access to both the outdoors and barn shelter. Fortunately, close quarters don't seem to be a problem for the social animals.
"They're cooperative, and very hardy animals," she said.
Upkeep for her animals includes 90 minutes in the morning and again in the evening for feeding and watering. Feed at the Harrison farm includes the equivalent of 10 square bales of hay per day plus grain. Donkeys generate body heat by eating, so super cold weather means double feeding and watering repeatedly throughout the day to stay ahead of the ice. Of course maintenance also includes cleaning out the pens.
D'Angela said Amy Morris has 80 acres, and spends three hours twice daily taking care of her roughly 75 animals. She conceded that caring for so many donkeys [including other animals that may need some help] is a huge undertaking, both in time demand and financially.
The operations are run wholly through donations, raised through the efforts of D'Angela and Morris, who then turn those funds into wise purchases of hay from local farmers and grain from the feed store. Asked what sort of help the Crossroads Donkey Rescue could use, she responded that financial assistance for the major expense of hay and feed would be very helpful.
"We're run all by donation," D'Angela said. "But sometimes we put in personal funds to keep it going."
D'Angela said to have people come out to volunteer their time to help clean pens or help with chores occasionally would help lift the burden off the shoulders of Amy Morris and herself. The Clare farm has been blessed with some volunteer help from a Central Michigan University veterinary student.
She said donations of good quality grass hay also would be welcome.
When asked to put a dollar figure on meeting the needs of the donkeys, D'Angela said raising $10,000 to make it through this winter would be fantastic.
She said controlling costs leaves veterinary care on an as-needed basis. Hoof trimming is another major expense and with so many animals onsite, that trimming is done a few animals at a time.
"You keep an eye on everybody to make sure if there's any behavior that's a little off or they're not eating," she said. "You treat by yourself if it's anything minor."
D'Angela noted there is a prevailing belief that donkeys are stubborn, but she wants people to understand that donkeys are extremely intelligent and highly intuitive.
"They're a lot like dogs," she said. "They're affectionate and when they're born, if they're handled properly by people, they make the most wonderful companions."
She said people often will seek out a donkey to serve as a companion for their horse.
"And people are amazed," she said. "You don't know how many times people have come up to me and said 'If we'd known donkeys were like this, we never would have gotten the horses.'"
D'Angela works full time and her commitment to the donkeys takes up much of her remaining hours. She said volunteer help could enable her to possibly put on an open house to better inform the community of the rescue work being done and the ongoing need for it.
"I want to expand people's minds on what a wonderful creature the donkey is," D'Angela said. "That's the major thing I want people to learn and experience, because it is pretty amazing. When somebody goes out into my pen, sometimes I tell them that when they go out there, all of sudden you're going to be surrounded by 20 donkeys. Some people get intimidated by that. Donkeys will come right up to you and put their butt to you because they want their butt scratched. People think they're turning around in order to kick them, but it's not that."
To learn more about this benevolent cause or how to help, search Crossroads Donkey Rescue online at http://crossroadsdonkeyrescue.webs.com/; leave a message on the Facebook page; or call D'Angela at 989-426-7942 and leave a message.