Donkeys used to be quite valuable. But no more.In centuries past, the sure-footed beasts of burden lugged goods to market, and one famously brought the mother of Jesus to Bethlehem.But in this century, donkeys, known for their intelligence and affectionate natures, are mostly bred for pets. A donkey, however, is more expensive to feed than the family dog."People think they can just put a donkey on a pasture and it will be fine," said Shelly Meeks, an investigator for the Humane Society of North Texas. "But it depends on the size of the pasture. They can mow it down very quickly and then have nothing to eat."You've got to throw hay."But drought has accelerated demand for hay, causing its cost to "skyrocket," Meeks said. A 60-pound bale, she said, can fetch about $14, twice as much as a couple of years ago.Consequently, she said, a lot of donkey owners decide they can't afford to feed their animals, so they're placed for adoption through the Humane Society or the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, a national group with "sanctuary" pastures across the state, including Parker County.Unfortunately, in other cases, the animals are just abandoned, or they're kept in unhealthy conditions without adequate food or water.Such was the case this month when the humane society rescued eight donkeys near Sanger in Denton County. The society was still caring then for several donkeys that were among 21 abandoned last summer in Johnson County.As of last week, the society had 15 donkeys available for adoption."I know it doesn't sound like a lot," Meeks said, "but for a nonprofit that handles so many other things, the donkeys have been a long-term project. And we know that behind these there are more to come. We have to make room."The influx has prompted what Meeks and other Humane Society officials have called "the Donkey Crisis of 2012."Their concern was echoed by Richard Bruner of Millsap, a coordinator for Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue. He said there are about 1,000 donkeys at the organization's headquarters, a former dairy east of San Angelo."A year and a half ago, we were taking in 30 to 50 a month," he said. "But when the drought hit us it started picking up."The volume soon reached about 200 a month, and the organization has had to cut way back on intakes."It is extremely bad, and it's growing," Bruner said. "A typical call is from someone saying, 'I have 10 donkeys; come get them.' But we're not in the business of rescuing people. We rescue donkeys."Meeks and Bruner say finding suitable homes for the donkeys is tough.First, both organizations geld the males, turning them from "jacks" into "johns," to help control populations. The Humane Society charges from $15 to $100 in fees to adopt, depending on whether the donkey had to be gelded. The donkeys then go to their new owners fully vaccinated and with microchips for identification.The donkey rescue group also charges about $100 in fees to adopt.Adopters won't be disappointed, Bruner said."The life bond you can get from one of these animals can be incredible," he explained. "Once they trust you, that trust factor will be there forever. They see you and they'll come running."They're like big dogs, and who can ride their dog?"Bill Miller, 817-390-7684Twitter: @Bill_MillerST
Interested in a donkey?
The Humane Society of North Texas is accepting applications from people interested in adopting donkeys. For information about how to apply or to make a donation to help pay for hay and feed for the animals, call 817-332-4768, ext. 113, or visit www.hsnt.org. For information on the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, visit www.donkeyrescue.org/adopt/index.html.