HONOLULU (AP) — When David Paul Sennett was a child, he had a stuffed donkey. But he always wanted a real one of his own.
Decades later, Sennett's childhood dream came true when he adopted Barney, a wild donkey from Hawaii's Big Island who was orphaned when his mother was killed by a car.
"He's just like a big dog, he loves to eat bananas and papayas," said Sennett. "And he's very friendly."
About three years later, Sennett is about to adopt another donkey, one of the remaining 50 wild donkeys on Hawaii's Big Island. The donkeys are the last of more than 500 that were cast-offs from the early days of Hawaii coffee and agricultural plantations.
"We're hoping to get a female that's pregnant and then we'll have a family," said Sennett.
The Humane Society of the United States and Big Island residents were working Friday to prepare the remaining donkeys for adoption, marking the final step in a six-year effort to get them in adoptive homes. All the donkeys will get check-ups from a veterinarian before they're taken to their new homes.
When drought conditions forced the donkeys into residential areas in search of water, the herd became a problem. The animals wandered into roadways, tore up golf courses and drank from swimming pools, said Inga Gibson, Hawaii state director for the Humane Society of the United States.
"One of our first complaints was the donkeys were actually coming into the school yard," said Gibson, adding that some residents were so fed up with the donkeys that they threatened to kill them, while others wanted to use their meat to make jerky.
The herd went entirely unmanaged for nearly 40 years because the donkeys weren't considered game or endangered animals, said Gibson.
It's believed the animals were moved to Waikoloa from Kona in the 1970s when development grew in the area, Gibson said.
The Humane Society stepped in six years ago after getting calls from concerned residents. The group has spent thousands to get more than 450 donkeys in homes, including 120 that were flown to California, Gibson said.
"It was a daunting situation initially, like what are we going to do with 500 feral donkeys?" Gibson said. "It was really just an amazing community effort, and we didn't receive any kind of government support or funding."
Waimea veterinarian Brady Bergin said a rancher is currently working to round up the last of the donkeys so they can be prepared for adoption. The donkeys are being lured into a corral using a water trough, he said. Once captured, they'll be hauled to Bergin's clinic.
Before adoption, the donkeys must have a clean bill of health and the males must be castrated, which is an easier and less invasive process than spaying the females, he said.
Gibson said about 80 percent of the remaining 50 donkeys have potential homes. Hopeful donkey owners must go through a screening process to make sure they have enough land and know how to care for the animals.
Donkeys are social animals, so they must be adopted in pairs or have another animal to keep them company at their new home, she said.
"The adoption clause is no lone donkey," said Gibson. "They have to have a friend."