Minnesota’s only donkey rescue is on a mission to save the Brays

From a distance, Kym Garvey’s farm in Milaca, Minnesota appears to be home to a herd of long-eared, shaggy-haired horses. But once you get your hands on it, it’s easy to see the difference between Garvey’s 40 donkeys and their more temperamental equine cousins. Donkeys approach looking for scratches, then snuggle up to any receptive companion. Their enthusiastic braying resembles a rhythmic horn, crossed with a howl and wheeze.

“They really enjoy being around people,” said Garvey, who runs the nonprofit Save the Brays donkey rescue. “A bunch of horses will come over to see if you have any treats and say hello and then they’ll go away,” she explained. “But a donkey will stay there with you all day. The personality is a bit like a big dog.”

The reputations of the two equine species couldn’t be more different. Horses are often seen as status symbols associated with racing, horseback riding, or fox hunting. Meanwhile, donkeys are seen as lowly laborers – Jesus rode a donkey in Jerusalem to signal his humility.

Garvey, who grew up with horses, switched allegiance to donkeys after falling in love with the much-maligned species, which she affectionately gives animal names (“goofy old boy” and “squeaky geek”) among them). As she rehabilitates and rehomes hundreds of long-eared equids, Garvey passes on her allegiance to the donkey to area volunteers and foster families, who say they find caring for the animals to be both fun and therapeutic.

Garvey hopes Save the Bays can raise awareness for a misunderstood species whose unique needs are often overlooked.

“Horses are a precious commodity,” she explained. “Donkeys are known as beasts of burden and they are just kind of forgotten. They are the most abused animals in the world because in other countries they are used so much for work.”

Growing popularity

Most of the world’s estimated 50 million donkeys are used for agricultural work and as beasts of burden. But in the United States, they’re mostly “a pet you’ll love,” as Garvey puts it. The popularity of donkeys here has grown, due to their ability to provide companionship as well as drive carts or transport people and supplies.

Donkeys are relatively easy to care for and don’t require as much feed as horses, Garvey noted. And there is plenty of interest in saddle the larger varieties. “It’s hard to find mammoth donkeys now because so many people want them to ride,” she explained.

Some people use donkeys as herdsmen, but Garvey, a former large animal vet tech, cautions against simply putting them with sheep, goats, horses or cows without considering the specific behaviors and needs of the animals. donkeys. Feeding other animals is not appropriate, she noted, and the playful nature of donkeys can cause them to accidentally injure a smaller animal.

Donkeys have a different temperament than horses, Garvey added. Horses can be responsive to every bump in the trail, while donkeys provide a smoother ride. Their reputation for stubbornness is simply due to the fact that they are more deliberate than more flighty horses.

The need for rescue

After years of informally helping donkeys and realizing there were no specific donkey rescues in the area, Garvey made Save the Brays an official nonprofit in 2016. has had up to 60 animals in his care at a time (his herd usually includes a few mules too, which are the offspring of a male donkey and a mare).

Save the Brays raises money by selling calendars and hosting fundraisers, including one on April 3, and maintains an Amazon wishlist for anyone who wants to gift everything from stable blankets to glitter hoof polish. violets.

Because the lifespan of donkeys can reach 40 to 50 years, some arrive at Save the Brays due to their owners’ ability to care for them or due to owners’ financial stress. Other donkeys come to Garvey through the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation (MHARF), which receives animals seized by law enforcement, often because they are malnourished or lack health care. or safe sanitary shelters.

Because MHARF focuses on horses, its executive director, Drew Fitzpatrick, appreciated being able to send donkeys to Garvey. “I can trust him,” Fitzpatrick said. “She knows what she’s doing.”

Fitzpatrick sees parallels between the mistreatment of equines in need of rescue and the elderly in America.

“To see anything being taken advantage of and rejected and hijacked and treated as an afterthought,” she said. “The older I get, the more I realize that this happens to all of us.”

Garvey bought donkeys at livestock auctions, to save those who risked being killed for their hides. Gelatin produced from donkey hides is used in popular Chinese medicine, and its demand has led to the theft, poaching and inhumane treatment of donkeys around the world.

The repatriation process

Some animals arrive at Save the Brays with health issues so severe that they must be euthanized – the part of the job that Garvey finds the hardest.

The rest usually stay for about five months, although a few animals with special needs spend their days on the farm. After undergoing a medical examination and hoof trimming, the animals, which often lack handling skills, are acclimated to people and trained. As soon as they can lift all of their hooves for trimming and are comfortable being haltered and led, Garvey can begin looking for an adoptive home.

Kelly Schmitz, of Glenwood City, Wisconsin, already owned and bred horses before adopting a pair of miniature donkeys from Save the Brays this spring. She was interested in adding the “nice little guys” to her herd as pets that could help repel coyotes.

Schmitz learned the nuances of donkey care from Garvey and deduced a few things for herself.

“If a horse swings its butt towards you, get out of there — it’s probably going to kick,” Schmitz said. “If a little donkey swings his butt at you, he wants his butt scratched.”

Garvey has introduced many volunteers to the joys of caring for donkeys, which involves grooming them, cuddling them, walking them and, of course, picking up the droppings.

Volunteer Katie Bloome, a longtime horse lover in South St. Paul, has found her regular visits to the farm therapeutic.

“Standing in the pasture with a herd of donkeys around me and just scratching them and giving them some love – there’s nothing quite like it,” she said. “Because that’s all they want. They’re very loving creatures.”

Bloome said she finds it especially rewarding to gain the trust of animals that are fearful or withdrawn due to past abuse or neglect. She recently started cheering on a Save the Brays mule and calls her training, “the best part of my day”.

“It heals my soul every time I go to work with these animals,” she said.

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