For the Love of Donkeys

For the Love of Donkeys
Donkeys at The Farmette. (Rob Cardillo for American Essence)
Juliette Fairley
Updated:

When Jennifer Ewald embarked upon adopting her first two donkeys 15 years ago, she did not foresee that it would put her on a path to launch a rescue and sanctuary.

Ewald was so smitten that she founded a 501(c)(3) in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, called The Farmette, where donkeys find safety from kill lots and slaughter houses overseas.

“I was a college professor who was working on tenure at my institution,” said Ewald, who works at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “I was busy with academic stuff and enjoying having my own animals. I never dreamed of doing anything like this.”

Jennifer Ewald, director of The Farmette. (Rob Cardillo for American Essence)
Jennifer Ewald, director of The Farmette. (Rob Cardillo for American Essence)

At The Farmette, donkey lives matter. They receive health care, dental care, and, eventually, in some cases, are rehomed in pairs at foster farms.

Donkeys at The Farmette. (Rob Cardillo for American Essence)
Donkeys at The Farmette. (Rob Cardillo for American Essence)

“Donkeys want to be with other donkeys, but they also love people,” Ewald said. “They’re much more gentle, intelligent creatures than people realize. They are great companions for people and certainly companions for other animals, too.”

But millions of donkeys are slaughtered annually to make ejiao, a gelatin produced from their skin that’s used abroad for medicine, beauty, cosmetic, and other luxury products.

“As I learned more about donkey slaughter, I realized that I love horses, but there’s just something really unique about donkeys that grab me,” Ewald said in an interview. “I find them a lot easier to work with than horses.”

The top three importers of ejiao are China, Hong Kong, and the United States. Annually, the United States imports some $12 million worth of ejiao, according to data provided by U.S. Congressman Don Beyer’s office.

“It’s a pretty gruesome industry,” said Dr. Joanna Grossman, senior policy advisor and equine program manager for the Animal Welfare Institute. “The problem with horse slaughter, which certainly holds true for donkeys as well, is oftentimes they are not bred as livestock or as animals that were raised to be food. They are companion animals. They are working animals. When put in these situations, they are panicked and often not rendered unconscious prior to being slaughtered.”

Like horses and mules, donkeys are considered equine, but donkeys are special enough to have their own legislation, which was introduced by Virginia Democrat Rep. Beyer in the 117th Congress. If approved, H.R. 5203 would create extra protections for donkeys by prohibiting the sale or transport of ejiao produced from donkey skin in interstate or foreign commerce.

“Donkeys may have been overlooked for some time, but certainly with trade and increasing scrutiny on donkey hides being used for Chinese traditional medicine purposes, there is increased awareness,” Grossman said.

Donkeys would also be covered by the bipartisan Save America’s Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act, if it is approved. The SAFE Act, sponsored by Senators Robert Menendez, Lindsey Graham, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Susan Collins, was reintroduced last fall. “Essentially what the SAFE Act would do is make possessing, shipping, transporting, or purchasing any equine for the purposes of slaughter or for human consumption illegal,” Grossman added. “It’s just a straight up ban, and that’s true of the House Bill as well. They accomplish the same thing.”

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) reports that there are some 14,000 wild donkeys roaming free nationwide and another 1,000 kept in corrals. But the state of Texas has more than its fair share, according to Mark S. Meyers, executive director of Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue (PVDR) in San Angelo, Texas.

“Donkeys have no value in Texas,” Meyers said. “People were dumping them on other people’s properties. They were dumping them in bar ditches. It was bad.”

That’s why Meyer launched PVDR 20 years ago. PVDR provides a safe space for abused, neglected, and abandoned donkeys at 57 locations.

“The biggest problem we face is that the Bureau of Land Management is overwhelmed right now,” he said. “What’s going to happen is they’re going to do something drastic, and that’s why we’re scrambling to help the wild donkeys. Their own advisory board keeps suggesting that they just euthanize all of them.”

Regarding whether BLM is planning to euthanize donkeys, a BLM representative said that donkeys are federally protected along with horses. “The Bureau of Land Management does not have any kind of corral in Texas,” said Wild Horse and Burro Program Specialist Crystal Cowan. “The closest one is in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma. We’re in Texas six times a year. The adoptions that we do have, we monitor and check on them and they are successful.”

To date, PVDR’s website states that 2,964 donkeys are being directly cared for by PVDR in 57 locations, and 16,000 have been rescued. “Our donkeys come from a lot of different backgrounds,” Meyers added. “We catch a lot of wild donkeys in Death Valley and all of our donkeys go to a training program. So, they’re friendly regardless of where they came from. Some have been abused or neglected, but they all go through training and not one donkey leaves here until they are ready to be a pet.”

PVDR recently received a charitable contribution that Meyer plans to use to establish more adoption centers in New England and the Pacific Northwest. “We can’t store these animals like the government does,” he said. “We need to find them good, safe homes in states where donkeys are rare like Washington state, Oregon, Maine, Connecticut, and Maryland. They love them up there because they are uncommon.”

This article was published in American Essence magazine. 
Juliette Fairley is a freelance reporter for The Epoch Times and a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Born in Chateauroux, France, and raised outside of Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, Juliette is a well-adjusted military brat. She has written for many publications across the country. Send Juliette story ideas at [email protected]
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