Lawrence couple help homeless donkeys find families through Peaceful Valley rescue project
photo by: Mike Yoder
It all began on a whim. It ended with Jay and Stacy Ellis sheltering 12 homeless donkeys — and loving every minute of it.
For the last year, the couple have operated a satellite branch of the Texas-based Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue on their 10-acre spread south of Lawrence. The Ellises take in donkeys that have been rehabilitated and trained by staff at Peaceful Valley’s headquarters in San Angelo, Texas, and they match the animals with new owners.
Stacy, who works as a physician’s assistant in Olathe, first became involved with the nonprofit last April. She was considering the idea of adopting initially (both Stacy and Jay had spent time with horses growing up), but soon learned Peaceful Valley was looking to open its first satellite center in Kansas.
She jumped at the chance.
“I thought, ‘Why not? This will be fun,'” Stacy recalled to the Journal-World. “So my husband got a call like, ‘So, guess what we’re going to do now?'”
During the day, Jay works as assistant athletic director of facilities at KU Athletics. In his time off, Jay plays the role of “field hand,” helping his wife tend to the donkeys, cleaning up their messes and doing “whatever she needs done.”
“We’re in this together,” Jay says.
When he and Stacy first signed up to convert their land into a donkey adoption center, they attended a conference with other satellite operators at the Peaceful Valley headquarters. Unsure what to expect at first, Jay remembers the other husbands telling him simply, “You’ll understand.”
And soon, he did.
“Just dealing with them on a day-to-day basis, you get it. They’ve got their own personalities and they’re curious, and they kind of want to be around you,” Jay says of the donkeys. “… I’ve heard people say they’re like big dogs, and they kind of are.”
Jay would know about dogs, too. He and Stacy have six — plus four pygmy goats — in addition to their rescue donkeys.
“It’s a full zoo,” he jokes.
Since opening last April, he and Stacy have found homes for eight of their original 12 donkeys. They’re planning to adopt the last four — Anna, Belle, Little Bit and Emma, Jay’s personal favorite — for themselves.
Jay says they’ll probably have a new shipment of donkeys next year. In the meantime, inquiries are always welcome.
Soon, the Ellises will take part in a new adventure with Peaceful Valley. The National Park Service recently announced a five-year partnership with the nonprofit to capture and relocate 2,500 burros from California’s Death Valley National Park.
The critters (“burro” means “donkey” in Spanish, and the term is used to describe the feral populations that roam around the southwestern U.S. and Mexico) are not part of the natural California desert ecosystem, the National Park Service says. They damage springs and vegetation, compete with native animals over food sources and pose a danger to human visitors on Death Valley roadways.
The relocation project is entirely funded by private donations, foundation grants and corporate sponsorships.
Once captured, the burros will go through an extensive rehabilitation and gentling process at the Peaceful Valley ranch in San Angelo before heading out to adoption facilities and sanctuaries around the country. By the time they arrive at the Lawrence center, they’ll be completely tamed and ready for adoption, Stacy says.
The national Peaceful Valley organization keeps “extensive records” on their donkeys, she says, including information on where each animal came from — whether surrendered by the owner or captured from the Mojave Desert or Death Valley. All donkeys are microchipped, enabling Peaceful Valley to keep tabs on the thousands of animals in its national system.
Stacy isn’t sure when she and Jay will receive their first Death Valley burros, but she’s excited to take part in the project.
At 10 a.m. Friday, June 22, she’ll appear alongside Peaceful Valley executive director Mark Meyers for a segment on KSHB’s “Kansas City Live” morning show (channels 14 and 614 on Midco). Two donkeys from the Lawrence adoption center are also slated to make an appearance.
“They love to be in pairs,” Stacy says. “I even have people come out just to adopt them as a companion for their horse.”
Donkeys also make great guard animals, or they’ll simply run around with goats, she says. They’re gentle with children, and do best with at least 2 acres of land to roam. Because of donkeys’ social nature, Peaceful Valley won’t allow adoptions of single donkeys unless the adoptive home already has another donkey or a horse to buddy up with.
Stacy thinks of hers as “big fluffy dogs.” There’s a bond between donkeys and their people, Stacy says, that she has trouble putting into words.
“There’s just something very special about them that you don’t really see with other equines. There’s a bond,” she says. “There’s a trust bond when your donkeys love you.”
For more information on the Ellis family’s satellite adoption center, visit their Facebook page, “Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue Lawrence, KS.”