In Texas, Donkeys Abandoned By Struggling Owners

Robert Siegel speaks to Van Zandt County Sheriff R.P. "Pat" Burnett about the problem with donkeys on the loose in Texas.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Animals are not immune to tough economic times. Many a pet is abandoned by the family that's struggling to feed its human mouths. Even so, there's something unusual in the scale of animal abandonment underway in Texas these days, specifically a huge increase in the number of stray, abandoned donkeys. Donkeys serve several purposes. They protect flocks from coyotes. They are living four-legged weed-whackers. Some people say they make intelligent and loyal pets. And in some states, they can even reduce your real estate taxes by letting you call something a farm.

But in Texas, the severe drought has driven up the price of hay, and many real ranchers, farmers and other donkey owners have let their donkeys go. Pat Burnett is the sheriff of Van Zandt County, Texas. He joins us from his farm near Wills Point. It's about 50 miles east of Dallas. Welcome to the program, Sheriff Burnett.

SHERIFF PAT BURNETT: Thank you.

SIEGEL: And how many abandoned donkeys have there been in the county?

BURNETT: Currently, we hold 28. Over the last two years, we probably had 200 or so.

SIEGEL: Two hundred or so donkeys.

BURNETT: Yes, sir.

SIEGEL: And this is happening in counties all over Texas?

BURNETT: Yes, sir.

SIEGEL: Isn't it illegal to abandon a donkey like that?

BURNETT: Yes, sir. But you have to find the person who abandoned it first. And, you know, that's one of the problems. We're taking a lot of patrol time from busting drug dealers or burglars or thieves dealing with these animals.

SIEGEL: Well, tell me what happens. Do you get a report that there are just some donkeys wandering around on a county road?

BURNETT: Yes, sir. And then, a deputy is dispatched to confirm it. At that point in time, he looks in the area and sees if he can locate the owner, which many times a person will take a donkey to whatever and put him in a trailer and take him to an isolated spot in the county and dump him. And then, we have to get the - what we call the posse through a volunteer a group, and they pick them up for us. And at one point in time in the summer, they actually had to put them on my property.

We didn't have anyplace else to go with them. And now, we have a rescue center, but we're fixing - we have to empty it out. And we have some county property that has some grass left over, and we're going to put them on that until we figure out something else to do with them.

SIEGEL: What's the upkeep on the donkey or 28 of them for that matter?

BURNETT: If we're feeding them hay, it's a lot because I have four horses, and they eat a bale of hay a week, minimum, and donkeys eat about the same. You know, I went to our commissioner's court about, oh, two months ago now and asked them in a last-case scenario if we could euthanize them. And I don't want to euthanize them. You know, I rescue animals on a regular basis, but it's getting to the point that the SPCA can't take them. The Black Beauty Ranch, which they can live out their lives on, is full. Everybody is full. And every county in Texas that has people and animals, I know they're having the same problems, every one.

SIEGEL: Do you generally have the impression that people in Van Zandt County, let's say, keep donkeys because they really are working animals, or is this as much keeping some animals around the ranch for the amusement of the family?

BURNETT: Oh, all of the above. My parents, well, they're in their late 70s, early 80s, and they have a gelding donkey. And he's just a big pet, and they feed him all the time, and he, you know, he stays fat and happy. And in the spring, when the grass gets too much for him, I'll take some calves over there and keep him company. And then, like this winter, he's just eating his own hay and stuff like that. And then, there aren't - like I have (unintelligible) with three of my different pastures because we have a lot of cows out here.

So there's all different fields, like I said, there's just an overabundance of horses now and donkeys, and there's no place to go with them. And the value is nothing on the donkeys, and horses are really, really (unintelligible).

SIEGEL: Sheriff Burnett, thank you very much for talking with us about it.

BURNETT: Anytime.

SIEGEL: That's R.P. "Pat" Burnett, who is the sheriff of Van Zandt County in Texas, which like so many other counties, it seems, has an abundance of stray donkeys.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.