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Former media executive creates donkey sanctuary in Northern California

▶ Watch Video: Former media executive has a new calling: saving donkeys and helping them heal

The pandemic caused many people to reevaluate their careers — including a former media executive, who said goodbye to his high-powered role and unexpectedly found himself surrounded by donkeys. Ron King started a nonprofit on a 75-acre ranch dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of donkeys in Northern California.

“My favorite part of my day is my donkey hug,” he told CBS News.

It’s a far cry from his pre-pandemic life: attired in Gucci, shuttling between New York and Los Angeles as a senior vice president for Time Inc. He managed sales and marketing for well-known brands.

He said he realized he “made it” when he flew first-class to Milan to sit front row at a Versace fashion show.

But in 2018, the sale of Time Inc. led to the elimination of King’s position. He freelanced afterwards, but once COVID-19 hit, the work dried up and the despair set in.

Then came a call from an old friend, prominent pop art dealer Phil Selway — who hired King to move to his ranch and sell it because it wasn’t being used.

“I thought it would be a win-win. He could help me tremendously, and it would help him, give him another project,” Selway said.

King took the job and realized he found a new sense of calm on the property.

“My head is always like a snow globe that’s being shook. It never stops. That sense of sort of chaos in my head was just normal for me. When the snow globe stops after 20 years, you feel that,” King said.

Serenity then met serendipity. King discovered a story about the plight of donkeys, known historically as strong pack animals capable of hauling goods. But once they’ve outlived their usefulness, donkeys, which can live around 30 years, are sold at auction, slaughtered and skinned for their hides to be used in a traditional Chinese medicine.

“They don’t have any advocates, they don’t win races, they don’t feed a food chain. And I thought I need to help donkeys,” King said. “So I said, ‘Phil I have an idea I wanna run by you. I want you to take it off the market, not sell it, and let me turn this into a donkey sanctuary.'”

“The first thing I thought when Ron was giving his presentation was that he was crazy and I would be crazy to go along with this,” Selway said. “It’s absolutely blown me away and I could not be happier.”

Donations support their cause. Every donkey on the ranch, 97 of them, would have been killed.

“Patches was dying of starvation so nobody had fed him for who knows how long,” King said about one of the donkeys living at the ranch. “The only way to help a donkey that been abused, emotionally recover, is to love it back to health.”

In helping donkeys heal, King may be healing his own invisible scars. King’s struggles began at an early age, when, despite being the son of a Southern Baptist preacher, he realized he was gay.

“They were young and they were religious and they had a little sissy boy, so that didn’t go well. All I’ve really wanted all along was to matter,” said King.

By his 20s, King was homeless and addicted to alcohol and drugs. He got sober only after surviving an overdose.

Understanding the power of resilience, King said he helps to rebuild the donkey’s strength and trust so they’re ready for adoption. So far, he’s found homes for 30 donkeys.

“For a long time, proving that I could be somebody or something motivated me. That part is gone. But I want to matter, to the world, to donkeys, to people,” King said.

Amber Paz made two of his donkeys part of her family.

“This is my dream come true,” Paz said. “They’re so precious.”

For Paz, it was love at first sight.

“She laid down right next to us and I went, ‘you’re mine.’ I didn’t know anything about this, and if I could do, anyone can,” she said.

There’s no denying the connection donkeys form with people.

“I was pretty accomplished by all those standards. And I found myself with the rug pulled out from under me,” King said. “And for that level of despair, to be so close, so recent, is really an important lesson in resilience, and turnaround.”

“There is light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s not always a freight train. Sometimes, it’s donkeys,” he said.



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