Gratitude. Hope. Happy New Year.

We end the last year with gratitude…
Gratitude for our time together,
For memories,
For support,
And for kindness.

We begin the New Year with restored hope…
Hope that kindness will continue to prevail,
That love will fill our hearts,
That our voices will be used for good,
And that together, we will make a difference for all creatures.

Happy New Year. Thank you for an amazing 2018. I can’t wait to see what beauty lies ahead.

NamasBRAY. I love y’all. -Jess

Here’s to Donkeys

Autumn has finally made her first wave through Texas, leaving a low-humid, amber tinted landscape that is down right addicting. Everyone everywhere is outside with their tractors, mowers, wagons, and smiles. It’ll warm up here in a day or two, but then autumn will wave through again and again until the leaves turn brown and fall into winter. This is a season of much needed relief in Texas: a long, stale exhale after months of brutal, wet heat.

I sit down in the truck at the end of the drive outside my house, my hands shaking with excitement. It’s here. Like autumn, it’s finally arrived: my special copy of Horsemanship Magazine all the way from the UK. I tear at the package, the amber light bouncing off the glossy cover page while one of my legs hangs outside of the truck’s door. I scan the table of contents and there it is: ‘The Midday Scorcher’ by me on page 38. I thumb through the pages, the smell of fresh paper crisp in the truck, and there, on page 38, is my spread.

LRM_EXPORT_82107088465809_20181013_162551066.jpeg

My eyes well up with tears as I begin to re-read the story I wrote months ago when summer was at her strongest; when none of us stood a chance to her temporary rule, so we’d succumbed to scrambling around in the shadows like timid mice until she passed. The words on the page blur as tears now drip off my chin and so I close the magazine, pull my leg into the truck, and drive on towards my house.

The editor of Horsemanship Magazine reached out to me sometime ago, her being an equine (and especially mule) advocate and the thrill of receiving a message from her saying she’d enjoyed my blog post, “The Midday Scorcher,” is all rushing back with a fury now as the October/November 2018 edition of her magazine sits in my lap with my story printed inside of it. She told me she’d wanted to include more content about mules and donkeys in her magazine and would I mind if she ran my story? Of course I didn’t mind, in fact I was (and am) honored to be included!

I’m on the cusp of hyperventilating as I shift the truck into park and clutch the magazine to my chest. This just all means so much to me, although I can’t find the right words to attach to the moment.

This comes on the heels of my return back home from a long road trip up to Virginia where I was able to attend and participate in the PVDR East Donkey Symposium and 2018 Donktoberfest at Bold Rock Cidery. I’ve still not caught up on sleep from that whirlwind of a trip, nor have I had the opportunity to wrap my head around how many folks with whom we got to share that good ole’ donkey gospel.

received_240541959961625-01.jpeg

“They’re like big dogs!” everyone says with smiles and beaming hearts when they’re around donkeys for the first time. Person after person came by our booth to talk donkeys, to learn about the challenges they face, to say they had no idea and how can they help? Events like these are recruitment: recruitment for donkey advocates. Not everyone can adopt or volunteer, but everyone can share information. “I had no idea” they say with a gasp when we talk about the 4,000,000 donkeys slaughtered last year alone for their hides. It’s a global problem that’s growing like an aggressive cancer. “But aren’t they stubborn? And mean?” they ask, influenced by the media’s long lived portrayal of the jackass: the butt of every joke, simple minded, derpy, and worthless. Little they must realize, donkeys are what built the American West.

Right now, several folks from the PVDR Team are out in Death Valley saving wild burros that are under the threat of destruction as part of the new Wild Burro Project. This is a project that is not only historic in nature, but is a show of gratitude for the donkeys that were brought there centuries ago and then abandoned. They deserve our respect and our protection.

But see, this is my job. My job is to show the world that donkeys matter. This became my job the moment I moved onto that small ranchette in nowhere, Texas where a donkey named Bunny was left behind by the property’s previous owner. I laid my eyes and my hands on her and was sucked into her inescapable gravity. “How come more folks weren’t talking about donkeys?” I’d wondered as I stood next to the most amazing animal I’d ever met out in the pasture. Then I started reading about it and well, I made it my job. I just had to.

_DSC8453-01.jpeg

We’re a small but growing army, those of us who get the big deal around donkeys, and it’s up to us to eternally stoke that flame so that we stop finding neglected, abused, and abandoned donkeys on the brink of starvation with curled up and rotted hooves. It’s up to us to stoke that flame until donkeys are no longer stolen from folks or farmed for their skins in the global hide trade crisis. It’s up to us to protect donkeys that are under the threat of destruction and educate the public on how to properly care for them. It’s up to us because they don’t have a voice and they’re certainly not going to run away from harm. You know why people call donkeys stubborn? Because they don’t have that flight reflex and they’re smart. They stand their ground. They self-preserve and who can blame them?

I open the truck door, the magazine still clutched to my chest, and head inside. At the kitchen table, I open back up to page 38 where I finish re-reading my story. As I read, I let the tears stream down my cheeks. I’m so grateful and so proud to see my words and pictures in a magazine which is managed and edited by a like-minded, equine advocate. This is how we save donkeys: by writing stories about them and then sharing those stories to shine light on the issues that otherwise hide in the shadows.

I stare at the beautiful spread on page 38 and 39 in Horsemanship Magazine for a long time with what I’m sure is a giant, goofy grin before I go back to the beginning to read the rest of the October/November issue. My heart pounds as I imagine all the people I spoke to in Virginia and all the eyes that might be scanning my story in this magazine. I hope so much that it makes a difference. 

As I’ve said before and I’ll say again: Here’s to donkeys. Here’s to those for fight for them. Here’s to those who hopefully come to know them. And here’s to each other.

Here’s a short, little video from Donktoberfest. Thank you again to Bold Rock Cidery for hosting us and to PVDR East Manager, Kimberly Clark, for organizing the whole thing!

 

For more information on how you can help save donkeys or spread that donkey love, please visit PVDR’s website here: https://donkeyrescue.org/

Seven New Donkeys Under A Star-Speckled Sky

From the floor in the cob webby, cadaverous corner of my closet, I retrieved my thickest jacket—a cream colored hoodie with peach and green zigzags stretched horizontally across it. I bought it for $1.50 at an estate sale a few towns over last year because having lived in Houston my entire life until our move to the ranch, thick jackets were none of my concern. It was a late November day that hovered in the low 70’s and was dipping down to the high 30’s by early nightfall. As I cranked up the heater inside my house, I realized that there was a good chance that my new shipment of adoptable donkeys that had only arrived yesterday may not realize that the shelter I have erected on my property was there for them to keep dry and warm. After checking the sleeves of my hoodie for spiders, I slipped it on along with my work boots and headed outside.

It was one of those nights where it was hard to believe that the air was chilly—the sky was a blanket of stars without a smudge of a cloud and as far as I could tell, there was no breeze. Maybe it’s because I’m from the south, but I just don’t expect still, clear nights to be so, damn cold…I expect wind and clouds to be involved at least a bit. 

I unlatched and unlocked the first gate that leads into the pasture and the metallic clang of the chain against the post sent seven sets of ears straight up into the sky. At the time, they were all in a circle around the large, approximately 500LB bail of hay I’d gotten for them and by the time I made it through the gate, two of those sets of ears were right next to me, nosing at my jeans and exhaling quickly.

One by one, they approached me except for Tink who stayed back at the hay…more on him later.

I clicked from the back of my teeth and said, “Come on, kiddos,” as I walked towards their shelter. To my surprise, they all followed, fighting to be the closest to my backside. I was surprised because until this point, all of these new adoptable donkeys had been pretty standoffish towards me which I understood. They’ve been through so much and now they’re at this place with this weird woman who talks to them in a high-pitched voice and even sings to them. (Yes, I sing to them…earlier, I tried to win over their affections with carrots and to the tune of ‘I’m a little tea pot’ I sang, ‘Here’s a little carrot just for you, Take it and you munch it and you crunch it through and through.’)

We made it to the shelter and they stood around me expectantly. I wondered then if I should have brought them a treat. Instead, I leaned on the back wall of the shelter and peered out at the clear sky. A plane passed by with red and blue blinking lights as snorts and exhales filled the shelter with warmth. I found that I was actually quite warm now, myself. Noses took turns pressing into my arms and furry ears took turns brushing my cheeks and chin.

Donkeys in the dark are far more mysterious than they are in daylight. You can’t see where they’re looking or how tightly they’re holding the muscles around their eyes (which is a way I’ve learned to tell the mood of my own donkeys). Donkeys in the dark force a letting go of control and instead, you allow yourself to exist in the void of our connected consciousnesses. It’s trusting that they sense your intentions and learning to trust theirs, too.

I am no expert at donkey adoption. This is only my second batch of adoptable donkeys and I was just as nervous in receiving them this time as I was the last. I obsessively check the gates to ensure they’re latched and locked. Any bray that echoes during the day or night sends me out in the pasture to ensure all is okay. I’m overprotective and strict towards potential applicants who are interested in adopting because these donkeys have been through enough whether it be neglect, abuse, or even having been surrendered by someone they trusted. Change is a lot for an anxious mind and donkeys are quite anxious, naturally. Wherever they end up permanently needs to be a home of patience and of love and of borderline neurotic obsession because I guess I don’t think it’s all that strange to spend a good portion of the night outside with your new donkeys so that they know their shelter is safe and warm. It’s also not weird to sing to them—I’ve found they actually quite like it and they don’t care if you’re in tune or not.

I stayed in the shelter with them for some time watching the stars twinkle against a deeply bruised sky when finally, Tink joined us.

Tink will not be adopted out. Instead, I am adopting him. He is a mini donkey who was severely injured to the point where his front, left leg is no longer functioning. The left front hoof will never grow in properly and he wears a boot to protect the exposed leg. He is special needs and certainly will be extra work for me but I am so grateful to have him. He’s one of the most beautiful donkeys I’ve ever laid eyes on and never has a donkey (or anyone / anything other than my own kid) been so quick to lean his weight so trustingly into me.

Tink the mini donkey

I welcomed him into the shelter and knelt beside him, a hand on his back. I told him that I will take care of him—that I will do everything in my power to never let any harm come to him. I know he doesn’t understand my words, but I hope he feels my sincerity. Scratch that, I know he feels it. That’s what donkeys do. 

Bunny and Tee still aren’t sure of all of this, but like last time, they’ll adjust soon enough. Donkeys speak one language and that is love, no doubt. They sense it. They feel it. They validate its authenticity and will let you know if they sense bull shit. I often wish that us humans could be a little more like them.

After some time, I headed back to the house, exhaling fog. As I secured the last lock, Tink started to bray and boy does he have a loud bray. This made Bunny and then Tee and then all the rest of the donkeys from their shelter erupt into a crescendo of hee-haws beneath the clear, crisp sky. I smiled and walked inside.

Donkeys in the dark

 

 

 

The Land of 1,000 Donkeys: A Weekend at the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue Headquarters

I was in the second of two white vans that slowed to a gravel-crunching stop outside the visitor’s center at the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue’s headquarters in San Angelo, Texas. As the dust settled, I waited my turn to exit the van, crouched and clutching my satchel to my stomach. My heart pounded wildly in my chest as my boots hit the dry ground and the spicy scent of livestock surrounded me. Beneath the shining Texas sun beating down through a cloudless sky, I breathed in the dry, sandy air and followed the crowd away from the vans.

The group with whom I was travelling consisted of other managers and volunteers of Peaceful Valley’s satellite adoption centers around the country and members of the PVDR Board of Trustees. We had all come to San Angelo for the 2016 Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue Symposium and for me, I was meeting absolutely everyone (but for the owner of the whole operation, Mark Meyers) for the very first time.

For the vast majority of us, this was our first visit to San Angelo’s headquarters and even if I hadn’t already discussed this with the others, I’d have guessed by the way they stood in awe like I did upon arrival. Literally, as far as one could see, were pens of hundreds of donkeys. From every direction, brays of varying pitches and depths echoed—the songs of the saved. After several minutes of dropped jaws and goofy grins, we (the crowd) shuffled into the visitors center to begin the business of the symposium. It would be a busy weekend with brainstorming, discussions, hands-on demonstrations, Q&As, labs and team-building all in an effort and in the spirit of bettering lives for donkeys.

If you’ve been following my blog at all, then you’re well aware that my heart beats for donkeys and that it’s because of donkeys that my life is far better than I could have imagined. They’ve grounded me in a unique way…unknowingly showing me that it’s okay to be an anxious and protective creature because for many, that’s what it means to self-preserve. They’ve taught me the importance of trust and how to be strong and that no matter what, you keep going.

As I sat in a fold-out chair in the back row watching Mark Meyers talk about the organization that him and his wife, Amy, built, I realized that I was among people that understood all of these things about donkeys—so much so that they work tirelessly and devote their lives to the welfare of these amazing and overwhelmingly forgotten creatures. I was surrounded by people that don’t have to ask the question, “why donkeys?” but instead ask, “why the hell NOT donkeys?” They are a species that are unmatched in intelligence, strength, complexity and grace and they need a voice, too.

That voice came together this weekend and I had the honor and privilege to be a part of it.

I travelled alone to this conference which was probably a good idea because by the time I made it back to my hotel room after our first day at the San Angelo ranch, I spent a good amount of time letting tears stream down my face as I tried to fall asleep. They were tears for the hundreds of faces I saw at the ranch that had been through so much: hooves that were grown out so far that the donkey would never comfortably walk again, blinded and injured donkeys, scared and formerly abused donkeys. But they were also tears of joy that at least now, those donkeys were safe. They were tears of appreciation for how much these people I’d met have given and will continue to give just so these donkeys have a chance. They were tears of gratitude for the good that still exists in the world and the pure bad-assery that I…nervous, awkward, what-the-heck-am-I-doing-with-my-life Jess…gets to be a part of it.

Besides the invaluable education I received through our hands on workshops, the friendships I made over drinks and good food, and the hundreds of donkeys that I got to put my hands on and look into the eyes of, I was also assured of something this weekend that I didn’t expect: that this…aiding in donkey rescue even the tiny bit that I can…is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. No doubt. I know this because as Mark Meyers spoke to all of us at the Board of Trustees meeting on Saturday night, he read from his gavel the quote, “Know who you serve.” For the first time in a long time, I’m certain of that. Stars aligning, blue moon gazing, ladybug landing certain.  

On Sunday, after picking at donkey’s hooves, trying my hand at clicker training, learning about wound care, sliding my hands into a donkeys mouth who was having dental work done, and picking up some great tools for transporting donkeys, I said my goodbyes and headed home. I imagined my own donkeys and wondered what kinds of memories stirred behind their deep, brown eyes. I wondered if when I got home, they’d smell the other donkeys on me in the same way dogs do. I wondered if they’d missed me as much as I missed them. I couldn’t wait to get there to find out.

Below are two slideshows of various photos from the weekend. For more information on how you can help, please visit www.donkeyrescue.org.

And to all the staff, volunteers, and supporters of PVDR—I freakin’ love all of you. Like, a lot.