Donkey slobber is not such a bad thing. My first encounter with this sort of equine saliva came straight from the donkey’s mouth. Her name is Winona and she’s young — maybe a year old. Engaged in conversation with Blue Moon Sanctuary owner Anna Eby, Winona repeatedly snuggled up beside me and tried to munch my note pad, drooling on and smudging the pages. So I did the only thing I could, considering my limited exposure to donkeys. I scratched behind her ear. Now we’re best buds.
Winona is just one of 76 rescue donkeys living at Blue Moon, a 30-acre refuge outside Georgetown. For more than four years, owner Anna Eby has been saving donkeys from a cruel fate. Eby says there’s a kill pipeline in the United States that funnels donkeys to Canada and Mexico because slaughtering them is illegal in the United States. Once out of the country, the donkeys are killed and their hides are shipped to China where they are used for traditional medicine. According to the Scientific American website, a global donkey crisis threatens these animals’ long-term survival. “Donkeys today are subject to a shocking epidemic of illegal capture, inhumane treatment and mass slaughter in many African countries and elsewhere . . . in order to serve the exploding demands of the traditional Chinese medicine market.”
Eby finds donkeys at risk of being slaughtered through Facebook pages and other online resources. Some will live their whole life here at Blue Moon because of health issues; others are adopted only after Eby is comfortable that the animals and new owners are a good fit. She once rescued a group of ten from a kill pen in North Texas. One donkey likely to be voted most popular at Blue Moon, Zelda, was in particularly bad shape.
“She was just skin and bones. The entire group had been branded and some of them were fresh. They were literally dripping blood and flesh. It was horrible. She was in the worst shape of any of them. Her eyes were just kind of dead. I didn’t know she would make it. She’s got these scars up on her neck. Who knows what’s she’s been through,” Eby said.
But after the trip to Blue Moon and some donkey love from Eby and volunteers, Zelda has flourished. “Zelda is living her best life now,” Eby said. “She is famous. Everybody loves Zelda.”
Eby met her first donkeys several years ago through a friend and soon adopted one. She was then serving her second term on Georgetown City Council while running a law firm specializing in business litigation. Although she continues to work full-time as a lawyer, she resigned her Council seat, sold her home in Old Town Georgetown and bought 30 acres in the country. When she traded in her Mercedes sedan for a four-wheel drive pickup the transformation from an urban to rural lifestyle was complete. Rather than shopping for matching shoes and handbags at Georgetown boutiques, Eby now finds herself getting excited about her next trip to Tractor Supply.
Although the 76 donkeys truly are the stars at Blue Moon, a menagerie of misfits coming from various backgrounds also find love and companionship on the 30 acres. On my recent visit, I met Larry Bob, a one-legged guinea hen, a three-legged cat named Wobble Wobble; Trooper, a rescue dog from Afghanistan and unofficial “sanctuary manager;” two pigs, large and small, named Hazel and Bogie. And somewhere roaming within the fences, 12 horses, 11 miniature horses, five special-needs cats, two barn cats, and a rabbit manage to peacefully coexist.
Although donkeys are desert animals by nature and low maintenance, running a sanctuary such as this is more than a one-person task. So Eby has assembled a crew of about 10 volunteers who take turns watering, feeding, snuggling and scooping poop, all never-ending jobs. Eby also has a veterinarian on call 24-7.
Robin Graham and her two daughters have been tackling farm chores at Blue Moon for more than two years. They have adopted five donkeys and hope to be taking them home later this year to their acreage near Bertram. One day they arrived just a few hours after a baby donkey was born. But the mother, Twyla, wouldn’t let young Violet nurse, shunning the newborn. So Graham scratched behind Twyla’s ears while her daughter nudged the newborn forward until it gave in.
“We got to be a part of helping Violet nurse for the first time. It took about six hours,” Graham said.
Rita Cooper and her four daughters live in the country just west of Georgetown and were looking for an answer to their trouble with coyotes attacking their dogs. Because donkeys are valued as protectors of sheep and goat herds, the Coopers adopted a Blue Moon mother-daughter donkey duo: Clover and Nutmeg. Next came a pony named Chancy, followed by Tigger, a miniature horse, named after the character in Winnie the Pooh. Since then, no snakes or coyotes have come creeping or slinking around.
Cooper says Eby makes it “super easy” to adopt animals. “She has a program where if for some reason they didn’t work out for us, or we were in a position where we could no longer take care of them, that they get brought back to her. Once the animals are adopted from Anna, they would never go to a kill pen or anything like that. She looks for life placement homes and that’s what we really love about her.”
But there was an adjustment period for the animals to feel comfortable in their new environment.
“They definitely came in pretty rough shape with feet that needed to be done, and the donkey’s fur was terribly matted,” Cooper said. “It was a little bit before they would let us approach them. You can only imagine, coming from a hoarding situation and going to auction. Anna truly loves the animals. She gives her everything to try and save these animals from certain disease and death and to give them a second chance at life. We keep in touch. I send her pictures and it’s been a great experience. It truly is a Blue Moon family, like she says.”