Animals removed from ‘rescue’, operator arrested

By Deb Murphy

More than 150 burros, seven mules and nine horses were removed from the Wild Burro Rescue and Preservation Project in Olancha. Project operator Diane Chontas has been arrested.

Photos courtesy of Inyo County Sheriff’s Office

Inyo County Sheriff’s Department conducted the seizure. The rescue took two days to move the animals to a safe location where they were given veterinary care.

According to Mark Meyers of Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue in San Angelo, Texas, conditions at the Olancha operation were “indescribable.” Six of the animals had to be euthanized. “This did not need to happen,” he said in a phone interview.

Photos on Meyers’ website show one of the rescued burros with crippling, over-grown hooves. In the wild, rough terrain keeps equine hooves somewhat under control. In captivity with no farrier care, the hooves grow out, often curling up.

Meyers pulled together five haulers with a 15-25 animal capacity from Arizona, Texas and Virginia to move the animals to what he described in a press release as a “secure holding facility.” The burros will be microchipped and tested for common equine diseases.

Peaceful Valley is a 172-acre ranch; Meyers’ operation includes sanctuaries for older burros and donkeys as well as adoption centers across the country.

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7 Responses to Animals removed from ‘rescue’, operator arrested

  1. Marc Loring June 24, 2019 at 6:14 am #

    Admittedly I haven’t seen Diana in 20 years, since she and her then-husband Gene operated WBR from Onalaska, WA…but she is the absolute LAST person I would have expected this of. She was 110% dedicated to those burros. It’s no exaggeration to say that she chose them over her marriage. It’s so incredibly sad that her lifetime of dedication to those animals has come to this.

    • Jennifer W. January 3, 2021 at 3:47 pm #

      I am so heart sick seeing this. I volunteered for this organization while it was still based in Washington, before she divorced Gene. They were both so dedicated to the care of these precious animals. They dedicated every hour of every day to their care. I don’t know what happened after I left and they split up, but seeing these burros in this condition breaks my heart so bad. I learned so much from Gene and Diane while I was there, and I truly came to love these beautiful animals. One thing I know is that something serious must have happened, because Diane is one the best people I’ve ever met and I know she would never intentionally allow this to happen.

  2. Terri Risolo Flannery April 1, 2019 at 2:56 am #

    Thank you for treading lightly, I think. Ms. Chontas is only 62. She is far from old, senile, How silly. I know Diana well. I have visited her preserve many times over the years. I have seen improvements yearly. Diana is not neglectful nor an abuser. None of you know what abuse is. Look at The abuse of animals is horendous. disgusting. Please, know Diana Chontos is not a heartless abuser. Please contribute to Diana Chontas cause at [email protected].

  3. Charles James March 19, 2019 at 5:05 pm #

    It would be nice if people would let the investigation be completed before making harsh judgments and condemning those about whom most of us know very little, if at all. Let’s not fall into the trap of judging others by appearance, actions or behavior, while we judge ourselves by our intentions. Sometimes what we “see” can be deceiving. Some facts now known may be viewed differently as other facts (or factors) become known. And we don’t have nearly all the facts.

    The Wild Burro Rescue Program and Preservation Project, founded in 1996, has generally enjoyed a good reputation and strong community support, as has its operator, Ms. Chontas. That something has changed from the past appears undeniable based on the photographs of the animals posted both on the Sheriff’s Facebook web page and the Pleasant Valley Donkey Rescue website. But “why?” a change has taken place is not yet known and will hopefully be answered by the Sheriff’s investigation.

    One possibility? All of us know that, over time everything changes, including people, especially people, as the result of aging. Anyone who has ever watched an elderly grandparent or parent growing ever older knows that it comes with both deteriorating physical and mental changes that can change rapidly even over a short period of time. Whether that is in play here is not known, but several people claiming to be “in the know” seem to think that perhaps it very well might be. Few seem to think or feel there is evil afoot by accident or design.

    Who knows what is actually going on, but perhaps we could withhold judgment until we know more. One fact from this story that we can all embrace now without waiting for more facts is the continued need to support rescue animals and the organizations that care for them.

  4. M. Anderson March 17, 2019 at 5:30 pm #

    In December of 2017, this non-profit reported receiving $577,515 in tax free revenue on their Federal Form 990. I wonder how much of that went to the care of the animals.

  5. Almost Native March 16, 2019 at 2:53 am #

    This is plan sad, I’m glad the animals are now in better care. But I’m pretty sure that this is the last thing the founders intended to happen when they started. My guess the lady arrested needs as much help as these poor animals. Not jail.

    • Steven Kraf March 17, 2019 at 6:13 pm #

      These were not her pets. She was running a trusted Rescue. Throw the book at her.


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