June 27, 2012 - Brandon Twp.- On a recent warm sunny afternoon, Jane Olney walks out to a fenced pasture on her 10-acre property, calling out greetings to four miniature donkeys who are grazing.
Olney with Curly who recently had successful surgery and is up for adoption. Photo by Patrick McAbee. (click for larger version)
The donkeys look up at the sound of her voice and all four immediately begin ambling her way. Olney holds no food in her hands, but the animals come when called nevertheless. As they arrive, they crowd around her and some visitors for petting.
"They love to have their asses scratched," laughs Olney, as the donkeys begin backing up to her. "They're your pasture pet. You open the door and say, 'Hey guys, whatcha doing?' and they all perk up and somebody will holler. They come running and they play."
The animals are miniature Mediterranean donkeys and all are now neutered males. Olney has adopted two, named Buzz Lightyear and Roger, and is fostering two more—Curly and Moe, through the Turning Pointe Donkey Rescue.
Olney grew up owning horses in South Carolina. She and her husband, Dave, moved to Ortonville in 1994, but it wasn't until they bought the 10-acre parcel in 2000 that they acquired horses. Their youngest child , daughter Leanne, was involved in the 4-H Club and Jane Olney was searching for a show horse for her three years ago when she bought a donkey instead.
"I fell in love with donkeys at the 4-H Fair," said Olney. "They all started hee-hawing at me. "
Leanne's interest in owning a horse was waning and Olney decided it had really been more her interest all along. She decided to switch from horses to what she really wanted—donkeys.
In October 2009, she advertised on a website that she was looking to buy a donkey and three hours later received a call from a woman in Caseville and was soon driving to pick up Buzz, who was just 6-months-old. While Buzz was obtained from a breeder, Olney soon learned about the two donkey rescues in Michigan, including Turning Pointe in Dansville. She filled out an application to foster a donkey and last spring began caring for "Superman" who was soon adopted by a veterinarian.
"You don't realize that there is a need for donkeys to be rescued until you get involved," said Olney.
Many of the donkeys that come to Turning Pointe Donkey Rescue are from owners who are no longer able to bear the financial burden of caring for their animals.
In the summer, Olney's donkeys graze in three different half-acre fenced pastures, but in winter, they feed almost exclusively on hay, which she purchases at about $4 per bale. In winter, four donkeys eat about a bale per day, she said.
"It can get expensive to feed them, but it's far less expensive than a horse," Olney noted.
Other donkey expenses are vet bills that are similar in cost to a dog's annual vet bills, including yearly vaccinations and wormings; and visits from a farrier, who clips the nails of donkeys.
"Their nails are better cared for than mine," laughed Olney.
Turning Pointe has rescued donkeys left homeless simply by unfortunate circumstances, too. A recent drought in Texas killed off some ranchers' sheep and cattle and left them only with donkeys who no longer had livestock to protect from coyotes. Olney said the rescue is also expecting to receive nine donkeys soon from Indiana and a farm where the owners can no longer afford to keep them. Other donkeys come to the rescue as a result of irresponsible breeding and poor care or abuse of excess animals.
Olney began fostering Roger, 5, last fall after he came to the rescue from an exotic animal auction and adopted him after seeing how well he and Buzz got along. She began fostering Curly and Moe, 6-year-old siblings, after their owner gave the unneutered donkeys (known as jacks) up because they kept breaking out of their fenced enclosure to go see the female donkeys at a nearby farm. Curly had surgery in January to have a tumor removed from near his eye and is now doing very well.
Training for donkeys is not really required and the miniature donkeys are not rode upon like standard donkeys, or burros, would be. However, while fostering Olney does get the donkeys acclimated to people and said they are very social and more tactile "touchy-feely" animals than horses.
Each of the donkeys, which weigh between 350-450 pounds, has a distinct personality, with Buzz the outgoing one who wants to be the center of attention; Roger the adorable, docile donkey; Curly is also sweet; and Mo is the "Arnold Schwarzenegger" of the bunch—a little aloof and wants to be the boss. Olney loves to watch them play with their toys, which include uninflated inner tubes that they play tug-of-war with, as well as knotted ropes, cones, and children's bouncy balls. The donkeys sleep together in one stall in the barn.
Olney would love to foster and even adopt more donkeys, but said she has promised her husband they would keep no more than four. So for now, they are a rest stop for Curly and Mo until permanent homes are found and then Olney will find new fosters.
"It's frustrating because there are more donkeys than foster homes to keep them," she said. "We have ones that need fostering that are so loveable and child-friendly!"
Turning Pointe charges a $650 donkey adoption fee, with all males neutered and up-to-date on vaccinations. To adopt a female donkey (a jenny), applicants must promise not to breed the animal. Two donkeys require at least a half-acre, good shelter, and loving care.
For more information on fostering or adopting a donkey or to make a donation, visit www. Turningpointedonkeyrescue.com.
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville