For more than two weeks, Jenny has
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
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
PITTSFIELD -- Jenny the runaway donkey is
proving to be the most famous fugitive on four legs since Bonnie and
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
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
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,"
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,"
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
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."