One of the highlights of my time working in the Southwest was being involved with an equine sanctuary. It was a place whose mission was to provide a lifetime sanctuary for neglected horses, mules, and burros. In short, it was one of those places that have sprung up all over the West to address the disaster and tragedy of how ineptly Uncle Sam enforces the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971, designed to protect animals as much a part of our heritage as the Eagle. 

Over time I became aware of the fact that equines built this continent as surely as did man. On a human basis, we have reason to understand what cruelty and injustice is about, seeing much of both where we live and work in our journeys. Our human troubles are nothing compared what some of these special souls have been through.

 Burros can tell you their biography in a glance if you let them. And it is in the eyes a donkey or horse speaks his story, whether the journey has been met by man’s best side or his worst. They speak of the love and fear and abuse and hate they have met on their path.

If I had been asked a few years back if animals had intelligence and souls, I would have thought the person was a new age whack who took a wrong turn on the way to Sedona. As I spent time with my special friends in the burro pens, I learned that by quieting our minds these beings could help us to understand, the things their lives had been about. It’s all there given time: stories of never being given a kind word, a pat or a touch, of being isolated and alone without another donkey or person to simply be with.

You can sense the fear of some who shake if a person approaches. You realize the reason why it takes weeks for some to advance to eat an apple, and know they were probably beaten. It takes weeks to get some to accept a pat or touch, though you can sense the craving they feel at the same time for a two-legged to show them, love. That is because until they met you or another, a human hand meant pain and abuse, or an object tossed when they brayed. Then there are those whose owners simply chose to open a gate after their work was done, leaving them to the hands of a government and people who want them to die in the name of water for grazing more cattle and myths that burros and wild horses desecrate our environment as much as a man.

The magic of these creatures is they forgive with much more facility than man. They communicate in a way that is silent, maybe telepathic, but in a manner which is unmistakable to an open mind and heart. I cannot say for certain if there is a place called heaven after we pass, or prove there is a destination for animals to go as well. But it seemed well within possibility each day I saw the small victories won. I learned these beings have found a way to forgiveness of man for all his neglect and cruelty we seldom find for each other. They wish only to be allowed to run free or cared for if we bring them into our world. And like most of us they seek to feel those fleeting moments where we feel a human touch after our own dark nights of the soul.


Sadly there came a messy and inexcusable end, where it was demonstrated exactly why the Wild Horses and Burros in the west live such tenuous existences. Imagine a board that fired the leader of a 150 resident organization for a quarter century, with most choosing to resign the same time. Imagine leaving an animal you own in a place you claim to despise while moving Heaven and Earth to get donors to stop helping to buy feed. Imagine going to the depths of filing papers listing a fake corporation board, and trying to sell a huge property to another entity for a dollar. Imagine doing anything you can to keep animals from being adopted by loving homes, because it was not a dramatic enough rebuke to its founder.

Imagine an endgame hastened by a Board President’s annual Italian Vacation, and a subsequent roundup alleged to have been punctuated by cattle prods, roping techniques banned from rodeos, and several deaths of the elders. Picture the anger it must take for a woman to post negative comments on old stories about a place shut months ago. Or the cynicism of sending out fundraising appeals for a place after its closure, to pay an old friends debt.

In the entire morass, there was never a thought given to the creatures, most are said to have been taken to Texas for no explicable reason, in a cloud of obfuscation. Why send more donkey's to a state that has thousands of abandoned equines dying of drought, and home of a State Parks department committed to shooting burros whenever they can because of perceived overpopulation?  My friends once again found themselves victim to the same species that mess up so many things that wildlife face.

Over the nearly one year their home was winding down, almost all of the residents were offered homes, pastures, and local rescues were interested in assuming operations. Those seeking an adoption policy consistently were thwarted in favor of this Kafka- inspired and a rather farcical end.


I have left out names here. The story can be found other places online, and I am certain that karma and conscience have already begun to balance those scales. What happened here happens to too many animal based non-profits each year. In the case of Horses and Burros it looks bleaker each year in terms of BLM’s behavior, which is setting policies on these creatures, while still incapable of actually counting heads to understand how many they manage. Then there is the advent of domestic horse slaughter returning to NM, a picture ripped from “the Misfits” readying itself to be remade again. For real. I learned of the last one personally. There are even Wildlife Parks (hopefully non-domestic) that are alleged to take equines to be fed to the big cats. In some of those places, they are fed alive.

I still am searching for my donkey friends, trying to find what was their outcomes. An effort was made to obscure the true destination of residents, and nobody can say what really happened to my buddy Eeyore. The gathering was executed without any effort to find out names, family groups, or backgrounds. Though a spotted burro is rare and easy to locate, nobody asked seems willing to let us know the true outcome for my dear friend, and really the rest of his herd. Tragically I had a place for Eeyore to go, an escape plan from the uncertainty, a place just around the corner until we could find him a forever home. It was thwarted by the same sins that sum up this story. Starting with those sins fed by ego. and driven by those darker impulses of the human spirit., Robert Kennedy spoke about during his time.


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