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21 starving donkeys rescued in Tarpley

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

If a Tarpley resident had not stepped forward, 21 donkeys might now be dead - like the four others that had apparently already starved to death.
On Saturday, Feb. 22, deputies with the Bandera County Sheriff's Office removed 14 gray jennys, four gray jacks, two black jacks and two black jennys from a ranch located in the 12000 block of FM 470. According to a law enforcement report, Steve Sells, DMV, noted that the donkeys were in such poor condition they probably wouldn't have lasted much longer.
Most of the information about the incident was garnered from Bandera County Sheriff's Office Deputy Charles Haffa's application for a warrant to seize the animals, submitted to Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Lynn Holt on Feb. 22, and from an interview with Chief Deputy Matt King on Friday, Feb. 28. Holt signed the warrant for the animals' seizure.
Malnourished donkeys
On Thursday, Feb. 20, Kelly Bradshaw notified BCSO Capt. Shane Merritt that extremely malnourished donkeys appeared to have been abandoned on a ranch in Tarpley, said Chief Deputy Matt King. Later that afternoon, senior Animal Control Office Rick Neely investigated the allegation. Although unable to enter the locked property, Neely observed 18 underweight donkeys from the road, which he verified by taking photos. He left a notice on the locked gate requesting that the owner contact him.
Additionally, after identifying Mary Elizabeth Hall as the property owner, he left her phone messages. The next day, Neely requested Deputy Charles Haffa to follow up on the case.
Haffa returned to the ranch on Friday, Feb. 21, and left an additional request, asking Hall to call him, according to his application for a seizure warrant.
According to Haffa, at 7:30 am on Feb. 22, Merritt returned to the ranch and observed two dead animals lying inside a carport near a white wooden building east of the primary residence on the Hall property. Merritt contacted Hall's neighbor, Cynthia Waltisperger, who confirmed Hall owned the property. Waltisperger also told Merritt another dead donkey was at the back of the field. Buzzards were observed circling that area.
At 10:30 am, Haffa, along with Lt. Danny Bowermaster and Sells, arrived on the scene. Citing "exigent circumstances," Haffa climbed the fence. His report noted that Sells recommended immediate action due to the physical appearance of the donkeys.
"Because of the need to protect the lives of the remaining animals, two cable locks were cut and electric gate opener unbolted," Haffa wrote.
Once on the property, the deputies discovered 21 remaining donkeys, along with a fourth dead one found near a water pump house. No food or water was available and water to the residence had been shut off.
According to Haffa's report, water was seeping through a crack in a cement water storage tank near the pump house and donkeys were licking the side of the tank trying to drink the water.
He moved a small galvanized water trough to a drain outlet of the cement storage tank and opened the drain valve line to fill the water tank. "All donkeys immediately surrounded the trough and started drinking," Haffa noted.
Bandera County wrangler Glynn Rainey transported the remaining donkeys to his ranch were they were held awaiting a custodial hearing. Two more donkeys died after being removed from the Tarpley ranch.
Seizure hearing
When Hall finally contacted the sheriff's office, she was apprised of the condition of her animals and advised to come to BCSO and make a written statement. The Courier has not yet obtained a copy of her statement. Hall retained Britt Eastland as her defense attorney. A seizure hearing took place on Wednesday, Feb. 26.
According to King, Hall said she had hired a man to take care of the animals while she was living in Boerne. "He apparently left and did not tell Ms. Hall," King said. The man's identity is not known. She had not been on the Tarpley property for approximately three weeks.
King also indicated that initially Hall had intended to file to regain custody of the animals but later changed her mind - apparently to forestall criminal prosecution.
According to the application for a warrant to seize the animals, their condition allegedly violated Texas Penal Code, Section 42.09 Cruelty to Livestock Animals under (a) (2): "A person commits a offense if the person intentionally or knowingly fails unreasonably to provide necessary food, water, care or shelter for an animal in the person's custody."
$5,640 later
During the Feb. 26, hearing Hall purportedly reached an agreement with County Attorney Janna Lindig relinquishing her rights to the animals and agreeing to pay $5,640 for care and treatment of the remaining donkeys as well as for transport to the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue in San Angelo. As a result, criminal charges will not be filed against Hall, King said.
According to King, some donkeys were already on the property when Hall purchased it. Over time, the original animals propagated and Hall rescued other stray and unwanted donkeys.
The seized animals remained at Rainey's ranch until they recovered enough to travel. The donkeys will be taken to the San Angelo rescue later this week.
To assist with the donkey's rescue, Bradshaw is soliciting donations for the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, a nonprofit organization. The tax-deductible donations will be earmarked for the donkeys' continued care and rehabilitation and eventual adoption.
Donations can be made online at www.donkeyrescue.org by using the donation tab. Donations should be designated for the "Tarpley donkeys." Additionally, donations are being accepted by Sandra Schott, proprietor of Mulberry's Wine Bar and Bistro. Telephone is 830-796-9463.
For her part, Bradshaw commended deputies with the sheriff's department for their outstanding work on the rescue and for getting the animal's out of harm quickly. "I also want to thank County Attorney Janna Lindig, who came through in a big way on this rescue effort," Bradshaw said. "All of us in Tarpley are so grateful to have people around us that care as much as we do. Thank you so much."