Jules Peterson Heals Donkeys And People At Her Southlake Sanctuary.
From the bronzed trio to the family farm behind Feedstore BBQ, Southlake is a ‘burb that loves its burros. But few love back the same way the donkeys do at Loving Long Ears.
Founded by Jules Peterson in 2019, Loving Long Ears Donkey Therapy and Sanctuary is a nonprofit that rescues neglected or abused donkeys, rehabilitates them and trains them for therapeutic activities. Nestled on 3.5 acres of the Hadley’s pasture across the street from Walnut Grove Elementary School, Jules pours her heart and soul into caring for these donkeys up to 15 hours a day, every day. Then she watches as all of her hard work pays off as those donkeys turn around and provide their own special brand of love for children and adults in need.
“It’s a big part of my heart,” Jules says. “This is something I’ve wanted to do my whole life.”
Working to grow and build upon Loving Long Ears, Jules hopes the sanctuary continues to make a difference in both people’s and donkeys’ lives.
Jules has always been an animal lover. Growing up in Minneapolis, she always found herself surrounded by horses on the family farm.
“My mom would always get embarrassed because I used to gallop around the yard and start neighing,” Jules chuckles. “Horses have always been a passion of mine.”
When Jules turned 5, she spent the summers horseback riding on her grandparents’ ranch in North Dakota. She became so skilled that by the time she entered high school, she was performing across the hunter-jumper circuit.
That was before a bad fall brought an abrupt end to her riding career at 29 years old. Ironically enough, Jules says what helped her most in her recovery was horseback riding.
“When you ride, you have to sit very straight, and it strengthens your whole neck and back muscles,” Jules says. “It sounds contradictory, but there’s a therapeutic element to horseback riding. The more I rode, the more the pain left me.”
Experiencing equine-assisted therapy herself inspired Jules to get involved with it in a greater capacity, so in 2015, she began volunteering with an equine therapy organization for special needs children in Arizona. That was where she met two of her oldest donkeys — Miss Taco and Belle.
“Every day after I was done working, I would go out into the field and spend 15-20 minutes with them before I left,” Jules recalled. “I started to bond with them.”
That bond stayed strong even after Jules and her husband Rick moved closer to his job in Texas. When Jules heard that the property and the donkeys were getting sold, she knew she had to step in and save Miss Taco and Belle.
“I told her if she could find a way to get them over here and a place to keep them for free, we could take them,” Rick says.
A couple of favors and a 24-hour drive later, Jules brought Miss Taco and Belle to Texas and started caring for them. She didn’t realize it at the time, but she was laying the foundation for the Loving Long Ears Donkey Therapy and Sanctuary
MIRACLE MULE WORKERS
After settling into Southlake, Jules looked at potentially starting her own equine therapy endeavor. But after learning that donkeys are used for therapeutic programs instead of horses in Europe, Jules felt inspired to start her own donkey sanctuary.
“In Europe, they only use donkeys because they’re more docile and less intimidating than horses can be,” she says. “I wondered why we weren’t using our own donkeys over here.”
Jules started training Miss Taco and Belle, getting them comfortable with people touching and interacting with them. That was especially a challenge when it came to breaking through to Belle.
“Belle had been so traumatized and abused, she wouldn’t even take treats out of your hand,” Jules expresses.
At the same time, Jules added five more donkeys to her pen. Without Jules’ intervention, Luna, Gino, Buzz, Buffy and Amelia would not be living the good lives they are now.
“I wanted to have rescues because they share a synergy with the people we’re trying to work with,” Jules says. “They both share stories about overcoming, and they pick up on that and help heal each other.”
The donkeys’ first community events last year served as an introduction to the public, but it didn’t take long for others to seek them out. Since the beginning of her outreach programs, Jules has seen her donkeys work miracles in many people’s lives, from helping young children manage their ADHD to empowering veterans and first responders struggling with PTSD.
“These big guys came out and were only supposed to be there for an hour,” Jules says. “Three hours later, they were still petting and hugging the donkeys. It was such a success that the counselor asked me what they needed to do to get certified in donkey therapy.”
But one of Jules’ most cherished experiences comes from one of her first visitors.
“One girl was 28 years old and had terminal cancer,” she recalls. “I put her with Buffy, and she asked if she could just hug her. When she left, she was beaming with this big smile on her face. I didn’t cure her cancer, but this little longeared therapist gave her joy that nobody else could have given her.”
To date, Jules estimates that Loving Long Ears has helped nearly 3,800 people.
A CONNECTED COMMUNITY
The donkeys at the sanctuary have become a popular attraction to residents alongside North White Chapel Boulevard. School Resource Officer Kim Smith sees the donkeys every day while working her shift at Walnut Grove Elementary, and they never fail to brighten her day.
“For the past three years, Buffy and Gino have been out and sometimes even bray to me as I direct traffic,” Kim remarks. “I even get a kiss from Buffy every now and then.”
Owning eight rescue donkeys herself up in Justin, former Southlake Mayor Laura Hill knows the hard work it takes to care for donkeys and admires all of the effort that Jules puts in.
“She’s kind of like Dr. Dolittle,” Laura remarks. “The donkeys respond to her special touch, and everything she does for them is a labor of love.”
But few have seen Jules’ commitment up close as much as resident Danielle Garde has. Moving to Southlake in 2018, her family always passes by Jules hard at work at the sanctuary.
“She makes you want to learn as much as possible about the donkeys and be of help however you can be,” Danielle says. “We’ll pass her by and I’ll always text her, asking if she needs help walking the donkeys around or picking up after them.”
With around 30 volunteers helping around the sanctuary, Jules says she’s always grateful for how she can count on her supporters to give more than just their time.
“During the first snowstorm we experienced last year, the cold came so fast that the donkeys didn’t even have time to grow a winter coat,” Jules says. “I put it out to the community that we needed blankets, and by the end of the day, Southlake had dropped off a whole stack of blankets for the donkeys.”
Despite everything the sanctuary has gone through — from snowstorms to diseases — Jules knows the sacrifice is worth it because of all of the lives the donkeys have touched.
“I leave here a different person than when I get here every single day,” Jules says. “These donkeys help keep me centered and grounded. I can be really stressed out when I get here from everything going on, and once I’m here for a while, I can get a better perspective on the things that really matter.”
A SANCTUARY FOR SOUTHLAKE
While Loving Long Ears is proud of all it has accomplished so far, its goals for the future are lofty. Jules says she hopes to move out of the sanctuary’s current barn and upgrade to a full-fledged facility that can not only provide better care for its donkeys but also host future community events.
Regardless of how soon it’s able to realize that goal, Laura says Jules has created a beautiful thing with Loving Long Ears.
“It’s an oasis for the Southlake citizens,” Laura says. “Whether you’re old or young, Jules has provided an opportunity to put your troubles away and care for an animal that appreciates affection. Jules has done so much more than create a sanctuary for the donkeys — she’s created a sanctuary for Southlake.”
But more than anything else, Jules is grateful that so many people see the miracle in Loving Long Ears and the change it creates in people, in the donkeys and in herself.
“I see the miracles of what these little guys can do with people every day,” Jules expresses tearfully. “Every time I see that, it reaffirms why I’m doing this and why I’m so grateful for the people that believe in this vision right alongside me.”