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The Burros and a Mermaid

Stranded animals rescued from the flood waters

The Humane Society of the United States

by Polly Shannon

After a month of rain in the town of Murchison, Texas, a two-hour drive from the lowlands of Shreveport, La., the ground had reached saturation point. The earth simply couldn’t absorb another drop.

At the 1,300-acre Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, the usually calm and meandering Kickapoo Creek rose, and what once was a pasture was now a lake.

“The creek is both a blessing and a challenge,” said Diane Miller, director of the ranch. “We benefit from the beautiful, clear running water, but when there’s a deluge it can become a real force to be reckoned with.”

Fortunately, most of the animals on the ranch were dry and safe—but that wasn’t the case for approximately 100 burros. So Ranch Foreman Edward Palmer headed out in the truck, driving as far into the water as he could safely go and then waded a few hundred feet to start locating stranded burros. In a flat-bottom boat, a couple of other staff navigated the erstwhile pasture.

Standing in water up to his chest, Palmer, equipped with a two-way radio and binoculars, directed the boat crew around to the stranded animals. The crew corralled the burros to the highest point of land up on the oil rig pad and fed them bales of hay, all standard practice on the ranch when there’s any kind of flooding.

Catch Me If You Can

As they were beginning to wrap up, out of nowhere Palmer heard the squeals of what turned out to be a tiny wild piglet no bigger than a softball—no siblings or mom in sight—swimming with all her might as the current whisked her along.

Holding tightly onto the binoculars and radio, Palmer half lunged, half swam to catch her before she slipped by. With the burros safe, Palmer, baby, and crew headed back to the ranch where a delighted staff welcomed the piglet and named her Sirena—Spanish for mermaid.

Another Deluge

But the rains weren’t done yet and another 4 inches fell over a 24-hour period between Tuesday and Wednesday morning. Now instead of a dry rig pad, the burros were standing in belly-high water and the creek had yet to crest.

With time of the essence, Miller and the staff made a plan to move the burros—through 4 feet to 6 feet of water—from the oil rig to a concrete driveway that was part of the county road bordering the ranch. There, a truck and trailer would be readied to haul them back to the dry end of the property.

As a precautionary measure, contingency plans had been made, and outside resources and friends were prepared to step in if the staff hadn’t been able move the burros to safety quickly.

On hand were ropes, halters, paddles, and buckets of grain. Ranch staff entered the waist-high water, with Miller out front shaking the grain bucket to entice the burros to wade out behind her.

Tentative Steps

“The burros were watching intently and surely thinking, ‘I don’t know about venturing out when my feet are still touching the ground here, and I know where I am’,” Miller said. “But as they saw I was able to walk and wasn’t underwater, and as I kept shaking the bucket of food, they started to follow me.”

With a  couple of staff bringing up the rear to make sure the animals didn’t turn back, it wasn’t long before the burros overtook Miller as they started running through the water toward the driveway.

Palmer raced the boat down to the other end where he and couple of others were able to contain the herd. So far, the plan was working. That is until the burros wouldn’t load on the trailer.

“They wouldn’t budge,” Miller said. “We didn’t really have any other choice but to walk them a mile-and-a-half down the county road that was overflowing with rapids,” Miller said. “The burros stopped and started because of the water, and they tried to turn back until we again showed them it was safe to move forward.”

About an hour and two rickety wooden bridges later, they reached their destination.

Team Building Exercise

Miller said the ordeal, while challenging, was manageable and ended well, thanks to the tremendous team effort and commitment. It also helped that the temperatures were mild.

“I’m really proud of how we pulled together and everyone contributed good ideas about what to do. Everyone was willing to jump in this water fraught with mounds of biting fire ants and an occasional water moccasin. That’s a lot to ask, and I’m very proud of how they’re always willing to go those extra miles for the animals in our care.”