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Barefoot Works





For more than two weeks, Jenny has eluded capture

A donkey named Jenny runs away from Kevin Hall, of Newport, Maine, Sunday, Feb. 11, 2007, as Hall and his mule attempt to capture the donkey that escaped from the nearby farm of Joe Varricchio and Mary Gaeta, in Pittsfield, Maine on Jan. 18, 2007. The owners are now using horse trainer Karina Lewis who is skilled in animal psychology to gently lure the donkey back to the farm.

PITTSFIELD (AP) - An exasperated farmer has tried for weeks to corral his runaway donkey. He tried coaxing her. He tried tranquilizing her. He even tried using a horse whisperer.

But Jenny the donkey has proven to be elusive, evading capture and enduring bitter cold during the past three weeks on the lam.

"This one here seems to outsmart everyone," Joe Varricchio, who runs the farm with his girlfriend, said Monday. "I guess she likes her freedom."

Varricchio and Mary Gaeta decided to buy Jenny two months ago because they'd heard that having a donkey around the farm would ward off predators like fox, coyotes and raccoons that have been snatching 50 to 60 hens a year.

But this donkey had a mind of her own, fleeing the corral on Jan. 18, a couple of weeks after arriving at the farm, called "Mary's Gardens."

Varricchio said his son shot Jenny with a tranquilizer dart, but she ran away into the woods. Apparently it had no effect, because she was up and about when they located her two hours later, he said.

They tried putting tranquilizers in her food. That didn't work, either.

The latest effort, on Sunday, involved a horse whisperer.

"Some people call me a horse whisperer; some people call me an equine psychologist," Karina Lewis, of Benton, told the Morning Sentinel newspaper. "I like to call myself a problem-solver of people and horses."

But she couldn't figure out Jenny, who she thinks is part donkey, part horse. Lewis and her partner rode horses in an attempt to corral Jenny. The donkey came close, but kept running away.

Lewis said Jenny might be wandering on 30 acres of woods behind the farm because she's searching for her mate, from whom she was separated at an auction. Her donkey buddy is now believed to be residing somewhere in New Hampshire.

Jenny doesn't wander too far, though. She returns to a spot behind the barn to eat each morning. She might even catch a quick nap. But she's up and running whenever someone approaches.

It's not easy catching a critter that doesn't want to be caught, Lewis said. "It's kind of like chasing a 700-pound rabbit," she said.

Another volunteer who's trying to help is Kevin Hall of TK Ranch in Newport, which specializes in miniature horses and donkeys.

Hall brought along a male donkey, Jackson, in hopes that Jenny would amble into the corral for some company. It didn't happen.

"I've never had such a hard time getting a donkey a date in my life," he said.

PITTSFIELD -- Jenny the runaway donkey is proving to be the most famous fugitive on four legs since Bonnie and Clyde.

As Jenny's walk on the wild side entered its 26th day on Tuesday, the couple from whom the donkey made her great escape fielded telephone calls from media outlets throughout the country looking for an update.

Fox News and CNN have joined a throng of local media in broadcasting the movements of the delinquent donkey, according to Joe Varricchio, who owns Mary's Garden with Mary Gaeta. Varricchio received interview requests from news stations in Boston and California.

"It's more exciting around here, that's for sure," Varricchio said as he awaited the arrival of an Associated Press reporter.

The news coverage could help bring Jenny's saga to a happy conclusion. Gail Lever of Princeton, Mass., first read of Jenny's plight on Tuesday, and Lever just may hold the key to reining Jenny in. Equine experts who have worked to capture Jenny believe the donkey is searching for a partner that was sold separately at an auction last fall. Lever believes her mule, Isabella, is that partner.

"I think we have her buddy," Lever said Tuesday. "When I saw this picture today, (Jenny's) the spitting image of Isabella."

Both donkeys -- Lever believes both are actually mules, the product of a jackass stud and a female horse -- were purchased at Tilton's Auction in East Corinth. Both were considered too ornery to handle and were passed off to another owner. Isabella went to Lever, who, with two friends, runs Save Your Ass Long Ear Rescue, an informal donkey and mule rescue league. Jenny went to live with Varricchio and Gaeta, who hoped the animal would ward off the foxes, coyotes and raccoons that make off with about 60 chickens every year. Lever and Gaeta had both heard that the donkeys had been separated from partners.

"We could be wrong about this, but there are so many clues here that make me think this could be the long lost buddy of Isabella," Lever said.

Jenny escaped Jan. 18 and has been running in the fields and woods around Mary's Garden ever since. Varricchio and the Gaetas have gotten countless suggestions and offers of assistance, but all attempts to capture Jenny, even with tranquilizers, have proven futile.

Isabella, whose nickname is "Bellybutton," was sent to a farm in Acworth, N.H. She has made tremendous progress, Lever said, and is already eating out of outstretched hands. Lever believes Jenny can make the same progress.

"We're thinking of trailering Isabella over there and seeing if we could lure Jenny to her," Lever said. "We don't want to force her. We want her to come to us."

Karina Lewis, who specializes in equine behavior modification, returned to Mary's Garden for a second time on Tuesday. Lewis believes Isabella's arrival would hasten Jenny's capture.

"Karina said she'd go pick (Isabella) up if she had to," Varricchio said. "This is going to be something."

Lever believes Jenny and Isabella, who were likely lifelong companions and probably even sisters, have been heartbroken since the auction.

"These animals bond and they become such close friends," Lever said.

Lewis, who planned to return to Mary's Garden today, hopes Jenny will be captured before Isabella's arrival. Lewis and Jenny had just 10 minutes of what Lewis described as "contact" on Sunday during Lewis' first visit. That time of trust-building extended two hours on Tuesday.

"We're making definite progress," Lewis said. "I liked what I saw today. We're building rapport and that takes time. We're going to do this in increments and today was a huge step forward."


PITTSFIELD -- In the end, she went in quietly, led into captivity by a trusted friend.
After more than a month on the loose and numerous vain capture attempts, Jenny the donkey simply walked back into captivity Wednesday morning.
As she pranced around her temporary corral, the donkey, whose stranglehold on freedom made national headlines, already seemed at home.
"I'm thrilled that she's safe," said Mary Gaeta, whose life had been turned upside down since the donkey's Jan. 18 escape from Gaeta's Higgins Road farm. "I'm sure everyone is going to be pleased, now she's been caught."
Jenny, who is actually believed to be a hinny, the offspring of a male horse and female donkey, was led into captivity, more than caught. Karina Lewis, an equine behavior specialist, had spent more than a week earning Jenny's trust and building a rapport.
"We spent a lot of cold days out there," Lewis said. "I spent a lot of time just shivering on the ground and respecting her."
Lewis spent Tuesday in the woods behind Gaeta's farm, where Jenny ran whenever she felt threatened. There was a major breakthrough when Jenny started following Lewis. Lewis walked through the corral area with Jenny on her heels, an act that set the stage for Wednesday's capture.
"So today, when it came down to doing that, it was a natural process," Lewis said.
Jenny followed Lewis into the three-sided corral, which is an amalgamation of pallets and wire fencing reinforced by snow banks, and waited patiently as Lewis and her partner, Kirk Stanley, erected the fourth side to complete the enclosure.
"We let things be her idea and we didn't force it," Lewis said.
The temporary corral will be replaced by a sturdier pipe fence by the end of the weekend, Lewis said.
"That will be a more permanent structure (Jenny) can't jump or get hurt on," Lewis said.
She is hoping Jenny's notoriety will lead people to donate money for a new fence to enclose Gaeta's 18-acre farm. Lewis estimates the project will cost $10,000.
Anyone who wishes to donate may send a check payable to Jenny's Fund to Bangor Savings Bank, 83 Somerset Plaza, Pittsfield, ME 049677. Any leftover money will be given to a mule rescue organization.
Throughout her escape, Jenny had continued to return to the farm for food, but would never allow Gaeta or her partner, Joe Varricchio, to get closer than 10 feet before fleeing into the woods. Attempts to tranquilize Jenny's food, and even an injection fired from a dart gun, failed to take the animal down.
The experience left Jenny no worse for wear, according to Lewis.
"She's in very good health," Lewis said. "She's very cute and she's just as smart as they come."
Lewis believes Jenny's travels, which rarely went beyond Gaeta's farm and the surrounding woods and fields, were motivated by a lost companion that was sold separately from Jenny at an auction last fall.
The companion, which Lewis believes is a twin sibling, is living at a New Hampshire farm after being acquired by a rescue organization.
Lewis hopes to build appropriate facilities that would allow the two animals to be reunited at Gaeta's farm.
"That sure would be neat if we could get her twin here," Stanley said. "It would be a gift to her."
Lewis said she plans to continue to work with Jenny, Gaeta and Varricchio to develop a trusting relationship.
"We want her to get better conditioned to humans and not be afraid," Lewis said.
Gaeta was served with a subpoena on Tuesday charging her with animal trespassing; a civil violation that was leveled after a neighbor filed a complaint, according to Sgt. Tim Roussin of the Pittsfield Police Department.
Overall, though, Gaeta and Varricchio said the experience has only fostered hope and friendships.
The couple had dozens if not hundreds of calls from across the country from people offering help and, in some cases, prayers.
The couple holds particular affection for Lewis and Stanley.
"I'll tell you, they are great people," Varricchio said. "They're a godsend really. There's still a lot of nice people in the world. its gives you a good feeling."

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