Seven Months Later: AIP Rescued Burros Settle in the Hills of Western Massachusetts

By Dick Wagner

It’s now black fly season here in the hilltowns of western Massachusetts.  Also known as buffalo gnats, humpbacks, or flying jaws, it’s difficult to overestimate how annoying they can be to people and animals.  Fortunately, they only last a few weeks, and we’ll soon be coming to the end of their annual reign of terror. 

Black flies love ears, and burros, of course, have big ears.  It only took Huck and Puck, who clearly had never dealt with this scourge in the Nevada desert or at their foster home in Wyoming, about two days to figure out that when the daylight temperature goes above 60F degrees or so, they should seek the shelter of their stall. The “burro boys,” who needed to be coaxed all last fall and winter to come in, even at feeding time, quickly figured out that black flies don’t like to be in the barn – unlike the stable flies, a late summer blight. 

Huck and Puck have been with us for seven months.  They’re barely recognizable as the shy and apprehensive long ears who arrived here last October.  They’re now at an ideal weight, having come through a tough winter while still gaining muscle weight fore and aft.  Out veterinarian says they need a “job.”  We’re still working on what that will be.


Their individual personalities have emerged – Puck the curious one who will check out new things and Huck who thinks Puck’s crazy for approaching anything novel.  Both fear the garden hose “snake,” though.  They came as a bonded pair of best burro buddies, and it took them a while to feel safe.  Now they play frequently, including sparring – which took them months to feel comfortable enough to do – and rousing games of “carry the stick” in which they parade around, each carrying one end of a stick, sometimes short and sometimes long. Their paddock is littered with them, so they can keep a variety to choose from. Not surprisingly, they ignore all the toys we bought for them.

I’m also happy to report that Huck and Puck are now bonded with us.  They seek us out for contact at every opportunity.  Both love to have their butts scratched, to get their daily early morning brushings when eating their grain, and to see if they can score any treats – carrots being a particular favorite.  Eyes closed, they like to bury their heads underneath an arm to be hugged and get scratches under their chins. They’ve easily become members of our family that includes a rehomed mustang and rescued dogs, cats, and chickens.  There’s always another animal who needs a new home.


We’re proud of how much we’ve learned about burros, but we did make one mistake.  All winter, Huck and Puck had been fed their breakfast when it got light.  Predictability is a good thing if you’re a displayed burro uncertain about everything.  Unfortunately, however, it’s now light at 5:30am.  By 5:45am, we’re often roused by annoyed braying.  No alarm clock is necessary.

Of course, Huck and Puck should not have needed new homes.  They had perfectly appropriate ones on federal rangeland in Nevada.  When I look at Puck and Huck, it’s difficult not to see two old souls in their eyes.  They look wise beyond their years, and they are clearly keeping secrets.  Maybe at some point they’ll share, but I think not.  It is burro knowledge from centuries of surviving in a difficult environment.  Where to find enough to eat.  How to dig a well so there is more water for all.  It is knowledge that has previously worked against all comers prior to the introduction of the Bureau of Land Management helicopter roundups that this year alone will remove almost 2,500 burros. 

Burros are not animals who deserve – or who have ever invited – the abuse they are now subjected to during roundups and the all-to-often eventual sale through slaughter pens for Ejiao, gelatin derived from donkey hides that is used for medical and beauty treatments primarily in China. There are certainly better ways to spend millions of tax dollars. 

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We love having Huck and Puck.  At the same time, though, we wish they could have been left to live out their lives, wild and free, where they were born – and where there are no black flies!