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Media Herd Trots To Donkey Dilemma



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."
 

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