Today we’d like to introduce you to Andrea Durham.
Hi Andrea, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I grew up riding horses as a kid.
I rode all the way until my sophomore year of high school. Unfortunately during my sophomore year, I discovered boys and a part-time job which meant money to spend on clothes and stupid teenage stuff. Horses took a backseat.
Fast forward to the age of 26 when I have diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer. I had to receive nine months of chemotherapy and a total hysterectomy.
I was devastated that I would never have the chance to decide for myself if I was ever going to have my own children. Once I was officially in remission from cancer, I started looking into dog and cat rescues to fill my time, and I guess to pacify some maternal instinct. I quickly became involved with dog and cat rescues, helping transport, foster, donate, etc.
At 27 years old, I married my husband and started working towards moving out to his 54-acre farm in Greer, SC. Now you can imagine the former horse girl, how excited I was that I could know how to have a horse of my own on these 54 acres! However, my husband’s favorite word, and initial response to anything, is no. So, the horse had to wait.
Two years later, we’re settled in at the farm, we have seven dogs, however many cats have shown up, and I am pressuring my husband hard into adopting farm animals. He relents and agrees we can adopt a pair of goats. Along came Tim and Tickle, twin brothers, and the cutest things you’ve ever seen! Once we had the goats, two packs of coyotes moved onto the farm, and I just knew the boys would be dinner for those coyotes.
After researching for about six months, I read from various sources that donkeys make excellent livestock guardians for goats, sheep, pigs, etc. Spoiler alert, donkeys are pretty bad at being livestock guardians. With my newfound, yet incorrect, information, I convinced my husband we needed a donkey to protect the goats from coyotes.
We rescued our very first donkey, Jessie, a month later. We got Jess home, put him in the paddock with the goats, and thought all was well with the world! The entire next week, poor Jess stood at the gate of their paddock and brayed every time he saw us. Jess was lonely. The following Saturday, we rescued a mini donkey named Ringer.
By now, I’m in my early 30s, still rescuing dogs and cats, but I’m starting to pay attention to the plight of donkeys around us. We’re surrounded by cattle farms that have one or two donkeys out with their herd of cattle as livestock guardians, but the donkey’s feet aren’t being cared for, the donkeys aren’t being properly vetted as they should be, and I’m realizing how disposable these animals are to farmers.
I begin doing research on the plight of donkeys worldwide and realize donkeys are treated like disposable farm and labor tools. Not only was this heartbreaking for me because no soul should be treated that way, but after spending so much time with Jess and Ringer, I knew how loving and intelligent these animals are.
I started rescuing donkeys in need in my early thirties. My husband or I would pick up the donkey from wherever it was, bring it back to the farm, and rehab it. Once we were five donkeys in, I decided we should make this a 501(c)3 rescue so we could at least save money at the feed store.
We created Long Ear Rescue in April 2019. We became a full-fledged nonprofit in July of 2019. This July will mark four years of our rescue being open and operational. We started the rescue by saying we would only take in donkeys and mules, the long ears, and no horses.
As of today, June 26, 2022, we have two donkeys, eight mules, and 10 horses. The need these equines have in the south is awful. Part of our mission is to educate, and try to change the way animals in the south are treated by lawmakers, especially equines.
If only the husband had agreed to one horse…
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
The question is, has it been a smooth road? No, it has not been a smooth road at all. Nine months after we became a full-fledged nonprofit, Covid hit and shut down the US. I am a hairstylist, and my husband worked in automotive parts at the time.
We fund the majority of the rescue ourselves because the need will always be greater than the donations. I was not allowed to work for three months in 2020, then once I went back to work, salons were slow. Three months after I was allowed to go back to work, my husband lost his job thanks to Covid and was unemployed for a year.
You’re always begging for donations when you run an animal rescue. You spend your last dollars buying hay or feed for the animals over going to the grocery store. I make a promise to every animal who comes into our rescue, “You will never be as bad off as I found you. My job is to give you the best life possible.”
Not only do you worry about finances, but you also lose friends, and your personal relationships become very strained. I’m never on time for anything because nothing ever goes as planned with the animals. I can never meet friends for coffee, or go to family functions in the middle of the day.
I don’t think anyone realizes how all-consuming running any kind of animal nonprofit is until you’re in the middle of it. The horses keep it interesting as well. The minute you think you’re smooth sailing, one of the horses chokes or tries to take their own leg off.
All of the equine rescues I know are bracing for this winter. It’s going to be a bad winter. With feed and hay costs skyrocketing, many people aren’t going to be able to feed their large animals during the winter. We have also had a very hot and dry spring so far.
If the heat and dry weather continue over the summer, the fall hay crops will be very scarce, thus creating a major hay shortage for the winter. Animal rescue is rarely a smooth road.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
We run an equine rescue focusing primarily on donkeys and mules within the upstate of SC. Donkeys and mules do not think or behave like horses. They are much more intelligent, and you as the human, spend most of your time with them trying to either outsmart them or at least be on their level.
We are known for taking in very hard-to-handle donkeys and mules. It can take years before a donkey or mule will trust you. We don’t mind giving these animals the time they need to decompress and the time to realize we are here to help them.
I think I am most proud of our organization for sticking it out through Covid, major life changes, and adjustments within our board of directors. We’ve managed to overcome all of this, and still keep our promises to the animals we’ve been entrusted to care for.
I think the thing that sets Long Ear Rescue apart from other nonprofits in our arena, is definitely the fact we focus on mules and donkeys. A large part of our mission is to educate people that donkeys are terrible livestock guardians. We also educate on the care donkeys need, because donkeys are so different than horses physically, emotionally, and mentally.
The more people we can expose to these equines, and the more kids we can expose to life in a rural setting, the better the future looks for our planet and the plants and animals we co-exist with.
We are usually the group who gets contacted to take in completely feral donkeys because we’re blessed to have the veterinarian and farrier that we do. Without our vet and our farrier, we couldn’t accomplish half of what we’ve accomplished.
Before we let you go, we’ve got to ask if you have any advice for those who are just starting out?
This is a great question! We had a woman surrender a donkey to us several months ago.
She mentioned she wanted to start a donkey rescue. I asked her, “Do you enjoy having spare time? Do you enjoy having spare money? Do you enjoy spending time with your family?” She answered yes to every one of those questions. I told her to really think hard about those questions and answers before she started her own animal nonprofit.
If your desire is to start an animal rescue, I strongly, strongly recommend you volunteer with an established rescue consistently for at least six months before you create your own. You need to understand and appreciate the early mornings, the late nights, and the emergencies.
You need to see how several nonprofits manage their financials, their record keeping, and their bookkeeping. It is so easy to have a bank account go from $10,000 down to -$150 with animal rescue.
When you are starting an animal rescue, you need to research animal rescues near you who are working with the same types of animals you are. The equine rescues near us are Godsends, and we couldn’t do this without the amazing network of rescues we have nearby.
Researching and finding a vet and farrier (if applicable) is an absolute necessity. Not only do you have to have reliable and skilled professionals, but you begin to spend more time with them than with your own family.
When you begin your animal rescue, go into the rescue with the proper pastures/kennels/animal enclosures already set up. Before you know it, every square foot of your property will be filled with animals, and you won’t have time or money to build new things.
My main two “need to know” items before starting a rescue are MAJOR. You HAVE to take time for yourself. You can quickly end up in the land of burnout if you do not practice self-care.
The second “need to know” is the minute you begin hating the rescue, being resentful of the rescue and the time/money/energy it takes, walk away. Once you have reached the resentment/burnout stage, you are no longer useful to the souls you promised to help.
Running an animal rescue is extremely hard work, for very little reward. Animal rescue is a complete passion project. You will never make money running an animal rescue, but you will form friendships and relationships that will change your life for the better.
There is also nothing better than months or years down the line, realizing the light of hope is back in an animal’s eyes, and you helped put it there.
- Donkey adoptions: $500 per single donkey
- A pair of donkeys adoption: $750 per pair
- Mule adoptions: $500 and up
- Horse adoptions: $500 and up
- Website: www.longearrescue.com
- Instagram: @longearrescue
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Long-Ear-Rescue-343507539653548/
Alston Finley and Catheryn McCraw