Formerly wild burros find loving home on Arizona ranch
Jo Di Gennaro with her two oldest males Mighele and Papa. Photo: Jo Di Gennaro
Friendships develop for a variety of reasons: over work, hobbies, sports. In the case of Arizona residents Kathie Shotts and Jo Di Gennaro, their friendship was deepened by a love of animals. Burros, to be exact.
Jo and I met when we were teaching at Donaldson Elementary in Tucson. When Jo retired, she started volunteering for Equine Voices, a horse rescue sanctuary in Green Valley, 30 miles south of Tucson. The sanctuary needed volunteers to brush, walk, wash and clean up after horses that had been found abandoned in the desert by either drug dealers or former owners that had tired of their pets. Jo’s heart melted at the thought of these poor, neglected animals, and over school vacations and holidays, she recruited me to join her at the sanctuary. Soon, like my friend, I was hooked. We both loved every minute we spent caring for these amazing, gentle creatures. All the more novel to us, because Jo was born and raised in Brooklyn and I am originally from Newport Beach in Orange County, and neither location is known for its equines or rodeos. But despite being a “city girl,” Jo told me that she’d always wanted a horse. Volunteering at Equine Voices was like a dream come true for my warmhearted friend.
Eventually, Jo and her husband purchased a 37-acre ranch in Catalina, Ariz., and Jo told me her other dream: to start an extended branch of Equine Voices, enabling more horses to spend their remaining years in complete bliss. Well, the equine gods must have been watching over Jo. No sooner did she and her husband, Sam, settle into their new ranching life, mending fences and clearing brush, when the phone rang. It was a staff member from Equine Voices asking if Jo could take seven wild burros and board them at her ranch. If not, the animals would be destroyed the next day. Jo didn’t bat an eye. “I’ve always wanted a large family,” she said. “Bring ‘em over.”
And so they arrived, the Magnificent Seven as Jo calls them. Seven frightened wild burros consisting of four pregnant jennies (the females), two jacks (the males) and one teenager. We were saddened when one jenny had to be put down shortly after her arrival because of injuries sustained during her roundup on Bureau of Land Management land near Casa Grande, Ariz. But our spirits were lifted when Jo went to feed her “guests” one morning and saw what she first thought was a huge jackrabbit in the pasture. It was a wobbly newborn foal that had arrived in the middle of the night.
Jo is still awaiting two more arrivals to complete her new four-legged family. She and Sam have adopted the Magnificent Seven, and the once neglected, frightened animals have become her extended family, all with appropriate Italian names that suit their personalities. I help Jo with petting, brushing and hugging these formerly wild burros that now follow us around the ranch like great big docile puppies. They won’t let us forget whose turn it is to be brushed or fed, sometimes comically pushing their way into the front of the line to stake their spot.
These trusting and affectionate animals would have been slaughtered had it not been for Equine Voices. They also have my dear friend to thank. Jo opened her heart and 37-acre home to the homeless burros that are now living out their days safe, nurtured and loved.
IN THE HANDS OF KILL BUYERS! When horses are purchased at auction by buyers intending to kill them, they're hauled away in double- decker tractor trailers where they are beaten and often blinded with baseball bats to mollify them. After crossing the border into Mexico, the animals are stabbed on each side-an act to tenderize their meat-and immobilized. Workers, then saw the horses legs off, at the knee and hang them to bleed out-all while the horses are ALIVE! (This is an excerpt, from an article written by Missy Diaz, crediting Victoria Mc Cullough and Sen. Joe Abruzzo for bringing awareness of horse slaughter, to Florida. In 2010 Florida Legislation unanimously passed the Horse Protection Bill, making it a felony to slaughter horses for personal or commercial use.)