Cuddling up to Bruiser, a rescued teenage miniature donkey, Little Longears Miniature Donkey Rescue co-owners Valerie Lowe and Cheryl Pokorny explained their affinity for the tiny animals.
"They're a smaller, calmer version of horses," Lowe said. "They're more like dogs. They crave attention and they're super friendly."
The duo, both of Westminster, currently house 18 rescued miniature donkeys on 15 acres. Little Longears is a Maryland registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of abused, neglected or unwanted miniature donkeys from around the United States. After veterinary, farrier and psychological needs are met, their goal is to adopt out each donkey into a permanent, loving home.
"As we continue to grow, we need the help and support of the public," Lowe said.
Lowe explained daily donkey care includes feeding, brushing and cleaning the animals' feet. The animals require thousands of dollars in veterinary bills.
"There aren't really jobs for miniature donkeys," Lowe said. "They originated in the Mediterranean and were brought to America as pets. They make great companions."
Lowe, a retired hunter/jumper horse trainer, said they bought the farm three years ago as a place to retire her horses. They acquired two donkeys to keep the horses company.
"Cheryl fell in love with the little donkeys," Lowe said. "We saw a need for a rescue because they are terribly over-bred, and then neglected and dumped at auctions."
Lowe said miniature donkeys are a little less expensive to care for than horses because they eat less and can go without shoes. They require more care than goats and sheep, and need to be gelded to behave properly. They also can't graze grass as freely as horses can because they will get dangerously obese.
The organization's veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Karl, of Green Glen Equine Hospital in Pennsylvania, said she is glad they are willing to take on the challenge.
"I think they do a great job, and they really make a difference," Karl said. "They're able to rehab them and get them used to humans, and then they find good homes for them."
Their most recent rescue is Sonny, a 15-year-old miniature donkey from New Jersey. He was recently gelded and still behaves like an intact male. He wasn't able to get along with his owner's other animals and had to be re-homed.
"He needs more time to calm down and be socialized," Lowe explained.
Bruiser was rescued from a Pennsylvania auction in February.
Lowe said he was terrified, skinny and sick with pneumonia. He was missing a chunk of his ear and was blind in one eye. He has required a lot of veterinary care.
"It was amazing he was walking," Lowe said. "You could feel every bone in his body. It's incredible he survived it."
Pokorny said Lowe has taught her everything she knows about equine care. The duo now tries to educate the public about the breed.
"They're really misunderstood. Everyone thinks they're stubborn and mean but none of that is true," Pokorny said. "They're thinkers. If you ask them to do something, they have to think it out.
"Ultimately, they just want to be loved."
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The rescue plans to hold an open house in May. For details, visit littlelongearsminiaturedonkeyrescue.com.