Little Longears Ready to Rescue Miniature Donkeys in Need
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Little Longears Ready to Rescue Miniature Donkeys in Need

Jul 12, 2023

Best buddies Toby and Eeyore.

Two miniature donkeys purchased through Craigslist in 2012 led to an unexpected second career for a newly retired couple, then living in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Valerie Lowe, a former professional hunter-jumper trainer, and her wife Cheryl Pokorny, a former schoolteacher, had just moved to the 15-acre horse farm in Westminster when they decided — with no donkey experience — to give this little pair, Nestor and Sassafrass, a home.

“We had more land than we knew what to do with and donkeys sounded like fun,” Lowe said recently. “We bought them from a lady who said she had purchased them at a New Jersey auction, which is something I knew nothing about. It was such a different world than the show horse world I was used to.”

"Senior" miniature donkeys mill outside the feed room at Little Longears Miniature Donkey Rescue in New Oxford, Pennsylvania recently.

It didn’t take long, Pokorny said, to fall in love with the charismatic equines. “They’re super soulful, they’re sweet and serene, and they’re very sociable.”

As the couple’s knowledge of donkeys increased, so did the number they took in, along with a desire to do more.

With no fundraising experience, Lowe and Pokorny created the non-profit Little Longears Miniature Donkey Rescue, which eventually involved moving to a 100-acre property in New Oxford, Pennsylvania, that today supports about 140 donkeys.

More than half are minis, and the rest include standard and mammoth donkeys, and pony and miniature mules.

Reese recovers from recent sinus surgery.

A capital campaign helped pay for five main barns and there are related sheds, paddocks and pastures, all of which are maintained in pristine condition, with the help of a dedicated staff and volunteers, Lowe said.

“This is Cheryl’s and my dream, and we’ve put everything we have into it, but we couldn’t do it without the great support team we have working alongside us.”

Little Longears is the forever home for most of the animals, including a large senior population and donkeys with special needs. Lowe said she and Pokorny provide for some long-term fostering for people who understand that the care and feeding of donkeys is more specialized than one may think.

“You need to build the sort of environment donkeys require in order to thrive. They’re high maintenance, at least in terms of diet,” Lowe said, because they are genetically designed for arid conditions and foraging on dry grasses.

When he wants a treat, Daniel just sticks his tongue out.

“Putting a donkey in a green pasture is like putting a diabetic on a couch with a tub of ice cream,” said Lowe. “Their pasture time should be carefully managed so they don’t wind up with obesity, which can lead to a host of health problems, like hyperlipidemia (similar to fatty liver disease), and insulin resistance,” Lowe said. Little Longears’ residents are given fresh straw to eat and bedding.

Many donkeys arrive at Little Longears with overgrown hooves and dental problems. “Some of them come to us with train wrecks for mouths,” she said. They often are products of abusive or neglectful environments, backyard breeders, and the auction pipeline.

“We work with law enforcement on seizure cases and surrenders,” said Lowe. “We take on a lot of challenging behavioral issues. Some of the donkeys are exceptionally fearful when they arrive.”

Rescue co-founder Valerie Lowe get a friendly nudge from Jeff.

A trio named Josie, Jenny and Moses were seized by Bucks County humane agents from a barn nearly 3-feet deep in manure and hay, with feet so neglected they could hardly walk and which kept them in constant pain, Lowe said. “Josie and Jenny were a mother-daughter pair that hadn’t had their feet trimmed in 10 to 15 years. Poor Josie had a number of other veterinary issues.”

Another donkey, Gracie, was infested with lice and extremely malnourished when animal control officers took her to Little Longears. She was also, to their surprise, pregnant. Gracie eventually gave birth at the sanctuary. “We thought we were saving one donkey, but instead we saved two,” said Lowe.

There’s even a Zonkey, a donkey-zebra hybrid named Margarita, who was surrendered by an owner unable to manage its characteristic wild streak.

“She scared the owner. She wasn’t tame,” Lowe said. “We can handle her now, and she’s actually quite friendly. In fact, she seeks out attention, but it’s always on her terms.”

In May, the couple took in a severely neglected donkey, Sassy, they weren’t sure would survive transport to their farm.

“She was very, very thin, with bad teeth and misshapen hooves, and she had this terrible, terrible wheezing — the equine version of asthma,” Lowe said.

Sassy gets a nebulizer treatment from Little Longears co-founder Cheryl Pokorney.

With breathing treatments three times a day and a proper diet, the turnaround has been “amazing,” Lowe said. “She’s eating and gaining weight, and not struggling anymore. You should see her march out to pasture. You wouldn’t know she’s the same donkey we took in a couple of months ago.”

Because donkeys are by natural intelligent, playful and quick learners, they receive training, and access to toys, logs to chew and other enrichments, Lowe said.

Visitors can meet the donkeys on scheduled tours, or if they sign up for Dinner with the Donkeys (scheduled this year for Oct. 7), and Lunch with the Longears, which is held every May. Events augment the sanctuary’s direct-mail and email campaigns, which generate gifts of all sizes, from modest to substantial, Lowe said, noting that operating costs at the sanctuary average $60,000 a month.

Aside from raising funds, the public gets to see how donkeys should be cared for and treated, she said.

“We have worked hard to create a donkey utopia here.”

Lancaster Farming’s Mid-Atlantic Horse tells the stories of horses and their people. Big and small horses; fast, slow, harness, carriage and farm horses; wild horses, donkeys, mules, mustangs and more. Mid-Atlantic Horse covers the wide world of the genus Equus. And for every horse story, there are many more about the people who live so closely with their horses.

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