The Battle Over ‘Daryl the Donkey’ in Boone County

BOONE COUNTY, Iowa  --  There is no shortage of work for Vanessa Heenan, the Executive Director of the Boone Area Humane Society.  Even on her days off, she’s called on to care for abandoned, neglected or abused animals.

“We take it very personally with these animals that we rescue,” says Heenan.

That was the case last November.

“I was on my way back from Ames, where my son had a doctor’s appointment, and I got a Facebook message from a friend of mine saying someone had seen a donkey in the ditch and it needed help.”

Heenan decided to swing by the property, just east of Boone, to check it out.

“He was dying,” says Heenan.  “He couldn’t stand up, couldn’t keep his head held high, his eyes were rolling into the back of his head and there was fur all over the ditch.”

Heenan loaded the young, miniature donkey into her car and tried to warm him up.  Meanwhile, workers at the Humane Society contacted the owners, Alan and Jennifer Schoff.

“At the time, she told me the owners were on their way,” says Heenan.

So, she waited and cared for the donkey as best she could, covering him with extra blankets and blasting her car's heater.  After 30 minutes of waiting, Heenan says she “panicked” and made the decision to take the donkey to the Iowa State University Veterinary Medicine Clinic.

“They immediately started working on him.  He was hypothermic, dehydrated and emaciated.”

ISU’s veterinarians can’t talk about specific cases, but an invoice, submitted into evidence as part of the animal neglect case against the Schoffs, details the extraordinary efforts used to save the donkey.  It also contains the cost of treatment - more than $7,000.

After nearly a month at ISU, the donkey, now named Daryl and now in protective custody, was returned to the Boone Area Humane Society, which had paid for Daryl’s treatment.  Heenan and her coworkers continued nursing Daryl back to health, waking up in the middle of the night to feed him and caring for his eyes, which were damaged from the neglect.  They hoped he would soon be adopted by one of the veterinary students who had helped save him.

But that all changed in January, when the Schoffs showed up at the animal shelter.

“It was 52 days until we heard from them again,” says Heenan.  “They wanted the donkey back without paying anything.”

The Schoffs didn’t want to pay for Daryl’s medical bills, but according to court documents, they did come up with $2500 bond to get him back - at least temporarily.  The court agreed to release Daryl to the Schoffs, but only under the condition Humane Society employees be allowed weekly visits to monitor Daryl’s care.

“We were very concerned with his welfare once he went back to the owners,” says Heenan.

She’s still concerned, because neither she nor her coworkers have been given access to Daryl - and it’s not for a lack of trying.   Court documents show Heenan called the Schoff’s attorney seven times from February 22, 2019 to March 4, 2019.

We left messages for the Schoffs and their attorney too.  When we didn’t hear back either, we decided to go to the Schoff’s home and ask to see Daryl for ourselves.

We knocked on the door, but no one was home - except Daryl.  He peered at us through a large, plate-glass window into the kitchen.  HIs small hooves tapped against the hardwood floor, scattering the hay

Heenan says she isn’t surprised we found Daryl in the Schoff’s kitchen.  She suspected they might try to hide him.

“At least he’s warm,” says Heenan.

But she’s still concerned for Daryl and the other animals on the Shoff’s property.

“There’s absolutely more that people don’t know,” says Heenan.  “And yes, we have plenty of evidence.”

That evidence will likely be presented in court.  The Boone County Attorney has filed a contempt motion against the Schoffs.  A hearing date has not yet been set.

The Shoffs, who have pleaded not guilty to animal neglect charges, did not respond to our messages.  Their attorney, Steven Kaiser, also declined to be interviewed.

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