Five-year-old Raven Boustedt made friends with Waylon Jennings last Saturday, one of the long-eared residents at Forever Home Donkey Rescue and Sanctuary.
Dedicated to providing a safe home for unwanted donkeys and, in rarer cases, mules, Forever Home serves as a safe haven where the animals can live out their lives.
On Saturday the 30-acre rescue, located between Benson and Cascabel, celebrated its 25th anniversary with an open house, activities for kids, live music and opportunities to meet the 29 friendly donkeys and one miniature mule housed there.
Children and adults of all ages wandered through rows of corrals and fed treats to new four-legged friends while volunteers served as docents, providing information about the rescue and its equine residents.
Luna Boustedt, Raven’s 3-year-old sister, was busy feeding treats to a small-sized donkey named LaRoy while cautiously patting his face. The girls’ mother, Shelley Boustedt, laughed when LaRoy belted out a raspy bray, startling her two daughters.
“I think this is awesome,” she said. “This is our first visit, and it’s just a wonderful place. The girls love it.”
Forever Home was founded by Tish and John Hiestand in 1998 after John purchased a 10-year-old donkey named Black Jack as a birthday gift for Tish. The couple acquired a second donkey to keep Black Jack company, but he came with multiple health problems and had to be euthanized. The Hiestand’s advertised for a replacement companion, came home with two donkeys, and continued to add to the herd when they saw there was a surplus of unwanted donkeys that needed a place to call home.
Today, Black Jack is 35 years old. The Hiestand’s first donkey evolved into Forever Home Donkey Rescue that started out as a private sanctuary. In 2020, it became a nonprofit organization.
“Most of the donkeys we take in are here for the rest of their lives,” Tish said. “Our goal is to give them a soft landing at the end of their lifespan.”
Suzanne Velasquez, one of Forever Home’s board members, lives on the property and handles most of the day-to-day care of the animals.
“Forever Home is an all-volunteer nonprofit,” she said. “When Tish and John started the rescue, they ran it as a private sanctuary for years, funded with their own money. We decided to make it a nonprofit organization in 2020.”
Now in their 80s, Tish said that she and John are grateful to have someone like Velasquez to continue Forever Home’s mission after they’re gone.
“We were concerned about the rescue’s future, and are grateful for Suzanne,” Tish said.
Saturday’s 25th anniversary event drew a steady stream of families and visitors.
“Everything is going great today,” Velasquez said at the start of the event. “We’ve been blessed with great weather, we have great music and a really nice-sized crowd. The visitors are enjoying the donkeys, and everyone seems to be having a good time.”
Maverick Naegle, 6, who lives in Benson, said he was glad that he and his mother decided to go to the event.
“I really like all the donkeys,” he said. “I like feeding them the snacks they gave us.”
Linda Agre, a full-time resident of SKP RV Park in Benson, said she brought about 30 people with her from the park.
“They love it here,” she said. “They went on a tour, enjoyed the music, ate cookies and fed a lot of treats to the donkeys. We’re all having a great time.”
Sierra Vista resident Cathy Miles said Saturday marked her first visit at the rescue.
“I’m really enjoying it here,” she said. “This is a great place for kids to come and learn about animals. It’s a very family-friendly place.”