Interview With Stephanie Summers-Mayer

I spoke with Stephanie Summers-Mayer, who is a lifelong lover and rescuer of animals. She is working with Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue now, but she doesn’t limit her animal advocacy to donkeys. Read on to hear what she says about her background, what she is doing now, her thoughts on animals, and her visions for the future.

Stephanie Loved Animals As A Child

Stephanie with a dog.

I have a background in animal rescue since I was a teenager working with dogs and cats, and I always knew that somewhere in life I wanted to be able to do more for animals. 

I was probably like most kids and loved dogs and cats. My grandfather, who raised me, always had a couple of dogs in the house. At one point we probably had six dogs and he certainly had a soft spot for animals too. Over the years I just ended up getting involved in rescue. I spent some time at an animal shelter volunteering and it grew from there. I moved around a lot as a kid and I always had my dogs. I think that that offered me some stability because it was one thing that I always had with me, no matter how many houses we lived in or no matter where we moved, it was just part of the stability in my life...

What Stephanie Learned From Animals

Smiling pit bull

I was taught a lot by them and other people working with animal rescue, and I just knew that it was something throughout my life that I wanted to continue to do. I felt like I was doing my part to just be a better human and make a positive difference in the world. Animals are easy to do that with because they're so loving and they're so unconditional with their love. They make you feel better when you're having a bad day. You always want to be that person that your dog is to you when you come in the door. So I just think they're so great. They're so smart and they add so much value to lives.

She Continued To Help Animals As An Adult

I spent a lot of my time just being a foster failure like so many animal lovers are. I just couldn't bear to see one more animal get euthanized. I spent my career working as a news anchor, so in North Dakota, where I took my first anchoring job, I got involved with the animal rescue there and became a board member at the shelter there.

Fast forward to me moving into my family farm and making some career changes. I was on a mission to learn more about horses and other livestock animals. 

Partnering With A Donkey Rescue

The logo for Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue. It's an orange circle with the words Peaceful Valley at the top of the circle, a donkey standing in front of an orange plus sign, and the words Donkey Rescue at the bottom

In a serendipitous way, I connected with this donkey rescue that was looking for a satellite location in the Midwest. 

I was filming a TV show at the time for Discovery Channel on home renovation. It was a really busy time for me and it was kind of the perfect situation for me to help animals, but without doing all of the paperwork of the nonprofit myself. I partnered with Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, headquartered in Texas. They've been around for about 20 years, and have multiple satellite locations across the country now. 

I partnered with them and we are the world's largest donkey rescue. We have about 3,000 donkeys at our location in Texas. In every season, summer, spring, and fall, they will load donkeys on a truck and travel from Texas to Missouri. I’ll tell them how many donkeys I have room for on my farm and that’s how many they bring.

A picture of the BnB that donkey rescuers can stay on Stephanie's property. It's bright blue and white with a tropical feel and it is made of shipping containers

The people typically will stay the night and we will work with the donkeys on the day that the people are here. We go through a little bit of their training and then the people leave. Pretty much the donkeys spent about a year in training to be the best donkeys they can be to get adopted out to families and kind of have a second chance. 

People ask me all the time, where do we get these donkeys? Donkeys come from all over. We have typical neglect cases, we have owner surrenders, and all the kinds of typical animal rescue things you hear about. But our organization also goes all over the country, even out of the country sometimes, to rescue donkeys. We have a government contract to rescue donkeys where they have become a nuisance and essentially we are their last chance to have that forever home. Just thinking about that and talking about that makes me feel so good to be able to help and do my part to help them continue living.

Donkeys As Pets

A donkey walking toward the camera

They're very smart animals. Our organization feels that they are really underestimated and misunderstood, and they have a reputation for being stubborn. Many people will associate that with donkeys, but they're really quite opposite. They are amazing animals. They're very intelligent. They remember people and they remember places they've been. 

I would say the hardest part for me adopting them out is they create such a family amongst one another. When I adopt one from the herd out the rest of the donkeys will cry out and mourn for the donkey leaving. And it is so sad. You know, you just hear them honking and moaning because one of their family members left. But for me, I know that they're going to a great home. And they got an opportunity that they wouldn't have otherwise. So I feel really good about that.

A donkey with a man standing in the background

A lot of people want donkeys as guard animals, which we don't actually adopt them out for. But their history is working animals and so they're great farm animals, they're great companions. And although we don't tend to adopt them out as guard animals to keep predators away, I think just the natural presence of having a donkey around keeps the coyote, or any other critter, at bay. 

Donkeys have this curious personality where they essentially go towards danger. You know, they want to know what's around. They're very people friendly, so it's kind of fun because when people are around, they want to meet people, they come up and they wanna just kind of be involved. But yeah, if they hear a noise or something that shouldn't be around, they are certainly going towards that danger or whatever that is. 

Donkeys Around Town

Stephanie with a donkey

Even farm people get a kick, no pun intended, out of seeing a donkey kind of walk down the street. And we try to incorporate ours into town events. Our goal over the next year is to just get people more familiar with donkeys. Ultimately they need areas to roam. They need to be able to live out their natural beings and instincts and forage for food so they might not do well in the city. 

Adopting a donkey is much like adopting a dog. When you adopt a dog you really want to pay attention to that breed-specific dog and find one that fits your lifestyle. Border Collies, for instance, would probably, for the most part, go pretty crazy tied up in a small backyard, because they're just living and breathing to go chase things and hurt things and they might get destructive and they might start to tear up your drywall. A livestock animal or a larger animal like a donkey certainly needs the land to roam.

She Even Helped Out A Pig

A pig

I have a really funny story about a pig. There is a woman who lives in the city just outside of Saint Louis. And she lives in a duplex in a neighborhood. And she's had this pig since it was a baby. And she connected with me. Her neighbor actually used to help her and pet-sit for her. Then something happened between them. This neighbor started complaining and reported her to the city and tried to get the pig taken away because she was living in a city and wasn't supposed to have animals like that there. So she was preparing to find a home for this pig and this was her baby. I told her that I could help her out and try to take care of him for her, given her situation. Well, she ends up going to court over this and winning her case. She was able to keep her pet in the home. I felt so good about that.

Spay And Neuter!!

Certainly, I'm a big fan of spaying and neutering. I get a lot of animals dumped at our place because they know that we're a donkey rescue. So I get dogs and cats here. I have a stray dog right now that has been part of the family for a while. I recently had two cats dumped at our door. One was pregnant and ended up having kittens.

I take these animals to a place in Missouri that does a discount neuter clinic. And I take them and get spayed and neutered to prevent the overpopulation. 

I think about when I was younger. In my teenage years or early 20s, I just didn't have the money to take them to get spayed and I didn't know about the resources like the discount places. And I thought I can't afford a couple hundred bucks to go get the dog spayed or neutered. Then they get out of the fence or get out of the house. One time and that's all it takes.

But there are so many resources out there. I'd like to spread the word about that even more than I have already to try to help with that problem.

Animals In Apartments

A man in an apartment petting a dog. Photo by Zen Chung: by Zen Chung:

Something that I have dealt with over the years is apartment complexes. They don't accept certain breeds or don't accept animals at all. So the shelters were getting full because all these newer developments weren't accepting animals. It is kind of sad too, because pets are part of the family. But, on the other side of the fence, I'm sure that on the real estate side or the landlord side, they've had people tear things up or not take care of the apartment. So that could be a part of it. But I've certainly seen the shelters end up taking in more pets because people were moving somewhere and couldn't take them with them due to those rules which is sad to see.

Animals And Allergies

A woman sneezing near a cat. Photo by cottonbro studio: by cottonbro studio:

My husband was allergic to cats. I had a vet tell me that nobody's allergic to cats. You just have to give it two weeks to kind of get used to it - get used to the animal. Eventually, it goes away. I think my husband still occasionally will get a little watery-eyed and sneezes once in a while, but it's definitely helped. Just having them in the house. I've certainly seen him get better. I don't know that it's completely gone away, but it’s better.

Stephanie Summers-Mayer Wants To Help All Animals

A black and white dog looking at the camera.

So I spent a lot of time working in dog and cat rescue. I'd say my long-term goal would be to create more resources for animal rescue in rural areas, especially here in Missouri. But in the meantime, I'm working with the donkeys and don't see myself stopping that at any point. It's been really eye-opening because you start to see that every breed or or kind of animal has some sort of story. 

Oh my gosh, you think about pigs, who are amazing. They're on some people's dinner plates. But then you have the people who see the other side of it, with a totally different perspective and I think there just needs to be a voice for animals in that sense.

A horse laying on the ground looking at the camera

Then there's the horse auctions and horse slaughtering. When you're involved in dogs and cats you are so focused on that that you don't understand or know the whole process of what happens with all these other animals. But there's just something with every breed. 

You learn the unconditional love of animals when you care for them, and you realize that there's just such a bigger purpose for them. And I don't think that we as people give them enough credit sometimes. You learn about the sad parts of animal rescue, where the overpopulation of animals is taking over shelters everywhere, and how important spay and neuter is simply because of the fact that most of them are dying because of the breeding issues.

I recommend to anybody that I talk to that they just spend one day in an animal shelter and see the overabundance of animals that are there that need a home. You find yourself looking into these puppy dog eyes and you see that there's so much love to give and then you can see that they're on the kill list, which is just heartbreaking to see.


Stephanie holding a baby in her left hand and the leash of a donkey in her right hand.

Stephanie Summers-Mayer talked with me about her love of all animals. She is working with a donkey rescue now and is enjoying partnering with that organization, but she realizes that all animals need rescuing. She wants to spread the word about spaying and neutering and she thinks all people should take some time to experience take some time to experience the joy of animals. She recommends spending time in a shelter so you really understand.

Stephanie incorporates her rescue work with the other parts of her life. In this way, she can explore all her interests and fulfill her mission of making a better world for people and animals.

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