Volunteering is something we often talk about, but rarely have time for. This unfortunately is very similar to our old life, but on occasion as we travel we have the opportunity to do something really special. When Linda asked if I wanted to go the donkey rescue with her I happily agreed. Linda has always loved donkeys, and initially visited this rescue back in 2008. She decided to go back when they were in Benson for an extended period of time and soon found herself volunteering five days a week. Today was her last day with the donkeys before they moved out of the park and we both knew it would be an emotional day. I had been seeing pictures of her with the donkeys and Facebook and couldn’t wait to visit the Forever Home Donkey Rescue.
The rescue is about 14 miles outside of Benson, AZ and is a very pretty drive. The last part of the drive is on dirt roads and this sign lets you know that you are in the right place.
Once we entered the gate I was struck by how beautiful the property was. This was a retirement property for a couple who ultimately turned it into a donkey rescue. An idea that builds from nowhere can end up looking haphazard, but their rescue looks as if the property was designed for it and is incredibly well-organized. The shelters were absolutely beautiful, he property was clean, and I loved the landscaping. They also have 20 acres of donkey roaming land, although the donkeys are obviously comfortable everywhere.
When we arrived just a few of the donkeys were let out, and the others were feeding. Morning is the best time to visit, because the donkeys are fed individually in the morning and evening. After they eat they are left to roam until they are called in for dinner with an old fashioned dinner bell. They are fed individually because many are on special diets and it ensures that they all get enough to eat. Their diet is closely monitored and with 29 donkeys on site, that in and of itself is no small feat.
Linda’s job has been to groom the donkeys and try to get them socialized. Every donkey has its own unique story and since many of them were rescues, not surprisingly they can be skittish of people. Some will never be adopted out, but many can be, and it is helpful if those donkeys in particular like being with people. So Linda and her friend Suzanne came out every morning and spent a few hours grooming and talking to the donkeys.
As we took turns in the paddocks, Linda told us the stories of each donkey. Some were absolutely heartbreaking and on occasion I found myself getting emotional. I have been around horses my entire life, but never donkeys and they are much sweeter than I was led to believe. Each donkey has its own stall, with a placard that says his/her name and a little about them. Once they were let out, I did get super confused as to which donkey was which, but Linda knew them all by sight.
There are many different types of donkeys (who knew) and we got to see a couple of unique ones.
Normally each donkey is individually let out after he/she finished eating, but on the day we were there a couple showed up for an impromptu tour. Because the rescue runs on donations, they provide tours. As much as possible they try to accommodate drop-ins, but it can cause havoc with the schedule. They prefer for the donkeys to not roam free when people are there, because as gentle as they are with people, they will kick each other on occasion and people can get in the way.
Speaking of Suzanne, she is relatively new to the full-time RVer lifestyle and she and Linda met at the RV park. They became friends, started volunteering, and the owners asked her if she would volunteer full-time. Suzanne is blissfully happy and she and Linda have become wonderful friends.
One of my favorite places in the entire refuge is the graveyard. Each donkey has its own headstone, with a little quote about their personality. The graveyard is designed so the other donkeys can walk through it freely and there was something deeply moving about seeing that.
Finally the tour was over and we were able to start letting out the donkeys. It was past time when they are usually let out and they were restless. There were a couple of slow eaters though, who stayed in until they were definitely finished with their food. That was a good thing, because as soon as we opened the door, the more aggressive ones were right there to eat the others scraps. On occasion, one of the donkey’s would wait outside for his friend to get finished. Donkeys bond with one another and can have VERY strong reactions when separated. So the owners have to keep that in mind when housing the donkeys at night or even taking them to the vet. One bonded pair always goes everywhere together or they can get very upset. As sweet as they are, they are also strong and you do not want an upset donkey on your hands.
Finally it was time to go and Linda went to say goodbye to Aquilla, her favorite donkey. Aquilla is sway backed, old, and had been bitten by a blackjack rattlesnake at one point. He was the sorriest looking donkey in the place, so of course Linda adored him. They said their goodbyes, which really touched me. Before I walked away to give them a few last moments together I took a short video of them saying goodbye.
If you are in the area, I highly recommend that you take some time and visit the donkey rescue. It is a great cause, they are great people, and the donkeys are amazing. Try to call ahead though so they can be prepared to see you. I am so grateful I got to have the experience, because it truly was very very special.
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