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Two Hundred Cats & 21 Donkeys

Good morning from Tucson, Arizona. You’re listening to Episode 031 of the Two Vegans on a Mission podcast. Thanks for joining us today! This week we’re talking about the Escapees Co-op Park in Benson, Arizona. And then we’re going to review the Tumerico Vegetarian Restaurant and the Zayna Mediterranean Restaurant in Tucson. Finally, we’re going to share all that we’ve learned through interviews we had with the Forever Home Donkey Sanctuary and the Hermitage Cat Sanctuary. These are two of our most unique visits yet. Stay tuned to hear all about them!

Intro to the Podcast

Welcome to the Two Vegans on a Mission podcast. I’m Louisa, and together with my husband Michael and our dog Sugar, we’re traveling and living full time in a Winnebago Class C motor home, visiting animal sanctuaries and animal rescues all across the country. Each week we’ll share what new camping spots we’ve found, what great vegan meals we’ve eaten, and our latest vegan outreach activities. Please join us as we strive to inspire, educate, and support you in your efforts to be vegan.

Today’s podcast finds us in Tucson, Arizona where it’s starting to get warm, but it’s not too bad yet. It’s in the high 80s and we’ll be leaving soon before it gets to be into the 90s but right now it’s pleasant weather, and so we are hanging out for a few days and we want to tell you all about where we were right before we got here. We were at Benson, Arizona, at the Escapees Saguaro RV Park. It’s a co-op and Michael, why don’t you tell us about your idea about it?

Escapees Co-op RV Park

The city of Benson itself, just a small, teeny Arizona southwestern city. Not much there, but in some ways is pleasant because it means you won’t have a lot of traffic flowing through the town. Now this Escapees Co-op, the biggest thing that immediately hits you is a sense of community. The word co-op really means they have about 22, 23 committees, and everyone that lives in this pleasant community is expected to do something. Landscaping. Repairs as needed. They have people that will help move you and it was just a warm sense of community. We had a difficult time when we’re walking the dog, just taking a normal walk around the park without people stopping to chat and and wanting to know about us, telling us about their life, telling about how comfortable they are staying there. Most of the folks, we noticed, have been RVing for a number of years and either … I noticed they fit into two categories.

They’re there because they’re snowbirds and they’re there six months out of the year and then they move on to other places. And then there’s the other group that have been RVing 15, 20 years and have just decided, we don’t want to move around anymore and we found a pleasant place to stay and it’s just so comfortable. We were just totally amazed at their facilities there. Huge kitchen. Computer rooms. They also have work sheds that have thousands of tools. They have areas where you can sit and just have afternoon teas and get-togethers and the place was just absolutely clean and well-maintained.

But it wasn’t just afternoon tea you could have. Twice we went to “happy hour” there, where people brought wine or beer or whatever else they were drinking. We sat in a nice circle and everyone was friendly and chatty. It was a real good time to build some community and I really like the Arizona sunsets at night and I like the desert tone and the feel of the area, but what I really liked about this RV park was not only was it a co-op, meaning you get to buy into having a lease spot. It also had this feeling that you could just come in there if you didn’t have a spot, you could rent one for the night and it was $27 for the night and then you paid electricity on top of that. If you are in a spot. You could also dry dock, which we did in the past.

We dry camped in their boondocking section and that only cost $8 a night. Their showers are good. The people at the front desk are nice and friendly and overall it’s a really great feeling. We decided to take the plunge and put our $500 deposit down on a space to lease, and the waiting list is about 310 people right now. We’re 309, and they say it takes about three years before your number comes up to where you might be able to obtain a leased spot, but it’s a very unique situation. If you decide to purchase the lease spot, that means you pay the going rate for the land, meaning you don’t really own the land, you just start leasing it and right now that’s about a $13,000 initial investment. If there’s a casita on the property, then you are going to pay the owner of that casita the price that they paid to put it up, so it’s not going to go up in value and it doesn’t go down in value.

And then there’s quite a shuffle amongst the people who live there already to see who wants to be in which spot when they come available. It behooves you, if you’re closer to the top of the list and you’re thinking about you really want to start settling down, then you need to pay closer attention to what lots are coming available. But in the meantime we put our money down. We’re going to drive through periodically and check on things and spend the day or the evening, but most of the time we’re just going to not worry about the fact that in a few years we may choose to settle in Benson, Arizona.

Davis-Monthan Air Force Base FamCamp

Then we moved on to Tucson, Arizona, and we are again at Davis Monthan Air Force Base. The FamCamp here. It’s about $22 a night and you don’t have to pay any extra for electricity, but it has nice showers. It has a laundry facility. And so we chose to spend the weekend here and then we’re going to move on. But we have extensively reviewed this RV spot in a previous podcast episode, so we’re not going to do that now. But when we get back to the podcast episode, we’re going to be talking about the restaurants that we found. New ones in Tucson to us anyway and they’re vegan options, so stay with us.

Tumerico Restaurant Review

The first restaurant we found in Tucson this time around is called Tumerico and it is an all-vegan Mexican restaurant, which offers some cheese or dairy products on the side if you ask for them, which is unique, usually you have to ask for the vegan options. This restaurant you must ask for the non-vegan options, if you like it, but we had a wonderful time there! This one was recommended to us by the lady that I met at the Cat Sanctuary, which is going to be reviewed in a little bit on this episode, but first we’re going to talk about the Tumerico Mexican Restaurant and Michael will tell you what he had first.

I was really thrilled to see this restaurant here in Tucson. Again, it has mostly vegan options and I guess if you asked, you could have cheese. We don’t do that, of course as you well know, but their menu was rich in whole foods and not just your typical bean burgers or tofu. First of all, one of the cool things about this restaurant that I love, the menu changes daily. They make things from scratch and then they put their menu up on a board. When you come in you’re not handed a plastic menu. You see what’s being offered today.

And the other thing that was really immediately noticeable when you go in this restaurant, how friendly the staff was. I mean the owner, manager came out to greet us, the people at the cash register, they knew about their options and then the people who served us actually wanted to make sure that everything was absolutely correct. I had a tamale plate and this tamale is really unique. It had jack fruit, beans, olives, greens in the tamale and then it was served with more beans, pineapple, a rich mix of greens and it also came with a garden soup. Very delicious. Fun place to eat. They had a guy in there playing a guitar and just a really relaxed atmosphere in downtown Tucson.

And I had a Tomatillo Bowl which was full of chopped vegetables in a yummy tomatillo sauce. Then I had the beans and the guacamole on the side. It came with some tortilla chips and some tortillas and a little kale kind of salad. It was so yummy, but it was so much food that I even packed some up and brought it home for lunch the next day. We really enjoyed Tumerico and we would highly recommend that when you are in Tucson, you look that one up for sure.

Zayna Mediterranean Restaurant Review

The next restaurant that we were able to have dinner at was called Zayna Mediterranean Restaurant. Now this is a typical Mediterranean restaurant, so it wasn’t all-vegan, but there were vegan options, and when I went in to order because we decided to take the food out and go home and eat it in our RV. I was impressed by the decor. It was very Mediterranean-like. Lots of reds, lots of blues, and the lady behind the counter was wonderful! She was very friendly and very supportive when I said,

“Could you please make sure that ours were vegan?” She said,

“Yes, there were plenty of people that work there that are vegan.” So they understood my request completely. I had the typical Tabouli Salad and the hummus with some pita bread, but it was very good. I enjoyed it and Michael can tell you what he had.

I really enjoy their hummus, pita bread, falafel, and they also had this delicious, Grape Leaves that were … I’m not exactly sure what was rolled up in there, but I know it was vegan, maybe tofu, spicy tofu in the middle. We really enjoy that Middle Eastern food. It was a break from what we normally encounter out on the road

And the prices were reasonable and so we would recommend Zayna Mediterranean Restaurant next time you’re in Tucson. Next up on the podcast, please join us as we interview John from the Forever Home Donkey Rescue and Sanctuary. You’re going to really enjoy that interview. I can tell.

Forever Home Donkey Sanctuary

When we were at the Benson Co-op with the escapees, our new friend Shirley told us about the donkey rescue and so we had to go look it up and we found it. It was about 10 miles north of the 10 Highway. And when I called them and said, could we please come out and visit your sanctuary? They were very, very gracious and they wanted to let me know that they were open to the public but with a tour with a reservation, but that they are not a charity. They are not a 501(c)(3). They are privately run, and they like to get people to come out and visit them, but they will not solicit any donations. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t solicit the donation. If you would like to give to the donkey sanctuary after you hear the interview, then by all means stay tuned and I’ll tell you how to do that. But first Michael is going to tell you his take on the place.

I didn’t know that donkeys needed a sanctuary, but apparently they’re mistreated like every animal on the face of the earth at one time or another. These donkeys have been in rodeo shows and private places where people get tired of them, BLM land where they are rounded up because there are too many of them, and they need a home. And this wonderful sanctuary gives them a beautiful home. There’s 30 acres for them to roam around. And I learned that literally they open the gates and the donkeys go out and roam most of the evening and then they’re brought back in, and they’re fed. They have a vet that comes out and treats any wounds that they have. And just a really safe, loving place for the donkeys to be kept for the rest of their lives.

We had the opportunity to sit down and have John, the owner, give us an interview and I hope you enjoy it.

Interview with John of the Forever Home Donkey Sanctuary

And I’m going to say I’m here with John and his wife, Tish.

Tish. Leticia is her name, but we call her Tish.

Tish. And then Suzanne gave us the tour.


And now you can tell me all about the beginning.

Okay. I saw an ad in the paper, local paper, for a donkey for sale for $50 and it was close to my wife’s birthday. I asked her, I said, “Would you like to have a donkey for your birthday?” And she said, “Well yeah that’d be a pretty good idea.” Well it turned out that he was a intact Jack. He hadn’t been gelded or neutered, and my wife had always wanted to raise mules. So our plan was that we get Black Jack, that’s the Jack, and we’d get him a small mare and we would start raising mules. Well then Tish got on the internet and found out that not all male donkeys will breed with a female horse.

It would be kind of wasted effort if we bought a horse and then that didn’t materialize. We decided to keep Black Jack as a pet. So we had him gelded and he was 10 years-old, and we had him gelded and then Tish says, “Well, if we’re going to keep them as a pet, they’re a herd type animal, so they need to be together with another like species. So we decided to get another donkey. We bought a donkey in a sale barn in Tucson and he had so many health issues that we had the doctor him. We doctored him for about six months and then had to have him euthanized. We found out that the donkey’s here, the standard donkeys, have no worth and people will get them for nothing and so they don’t have a way to haul them to the vet so they don’t want to call the vet because it costs too much.

And so consequently they get neglected, not on purpose but it’s by just not really taking care of the animal. Our idea was to find those neglected and abused … very few of them are abused, but most of them are neglected animals and get them in good health and then find them a new home. We’ve adopted out probably around 50 since we started in ’99 and we have a self-imposed limit of 20, because we’re not a non-profit, we’re private. And with 20 we can generally handle the daily maintenance and occasional trips to the vet. So this summer, I mean this winter, we were at 28 but five of those belong to a couple that comes down from Colorado every winter to get out of the cold of Colorado. We’re now down to 21, but eight of them went back to Colorado.

What is your vision for the future?

One of our goals is to educate people on the plight of the poor donkey. Civilizations were built on the back of the donkey and they’ve always been on the lower edge of the totem pole and not taken care of very well. And in Third World countries today, they still don’t live much past seven or eight years old and their lifespan is 40 to 50 if they’re taken care of. That’s what we try and do is educate people on what a beautiful animal the donkeys are, and what a friendly animal they are, and the care they need if you get one.

Wow. We learned so much about donkeys at the Forever Home Donkey Rescue and Sanctuary. Thanks again to John and his wife, Tish, and to Suzanne for giving us the tour with her grandkids. Thank you very much. Now we’re going to take a little break in the podcast episode because we’re switching gears. We’re going from donkeys to talking about cats. Stay with us.

Hermitage No-Kill Cat Shelter and Sanctuary

I was able to sit down with Karen Baden, the executive director of the Hermitage No-Kill Cat Shelter and Sanctuary in the heart of Tucson, Arizona. And let me tell you, this was a wonderful interview. I love this facility. It was very unique to anything I have seen before. And Michael took a tour as well. Shout out to Holly for the front counter. She’s the adoption coordinator. And then stay tuned now for the interview with Karen.

Interview with Karen Baden:

The Hermitage has a beautiful history. We were founded by Sister Seraphim in 1965. She had a call to compassion to save the un-saveable and the Hermitage blossomed from her call to compassion. And we are standing actually in her home. It started with 2,500 square feet. And as she saved more and more animals, it grew and she had volunteers come in and just built from that until it grew to a 9,000 square feet home and she saved everything. Cats, dogs, donkeys, birds. Pretty much whatever needed saving she brought here. In 1990, Sister Seraphim passed away at age 86, and she let the Hermitage and her legacy continue with volunteers. And at this time, we have been established for 54 years and September is our anniversary, and we continue to save as many as we can. We are now only a cat sanctuary and adoption center.

We have approximately 200 cats in our care in-house and about 150 out in foster and most of those cats are kittens who need 24-hour care, either bottle babies or what we call mushers. Those who are learning to eat solid food. There’s also queens with their kittens who need to be outside of the shelter environment to flourish. And then they come back after that and they go out to the floor for adoptions. I think one of the things that makes us extremely special is that we have special needs cats here, and they can live for the rest of their lives here if they need to. We are a sanctuary accredited since 2013 and we have specialty suites. We have FIV, FELV, diabetics and weight management. We have a [geriatrics 00:20:42] suite, kittens and the general population, and a lot of people ask, like what is FIV and what’s FELV.

And FIV is kind of the same thing as you relate to HIV in a human. It is a immune-depress disease, but cats can live long, healthy lives with FIV, and it’s not contracted very easily. Just by a deep puncture wound or mating. You can have regular cats with no FIV live with your FIV kitties just fine. We have them separated at the shelter because we’re not here 24/7 and when you have 200 cats living together there could be a couple scuffles. Just to protect the other cats we do keep them separate.

And then FELV is feline leukemia and if a cat has a healthy diet and vet care, they also can live long, healthy lives as well. And that is a little bit more aggressive because it is cats that groom each other, eat out of the same bowl, or drink out of the same bowl can actually contract FELV, So they are separated because it is a little bit more contagious than FIV.

And of course diabetes is just the same as a person that has diabetes. You need to take insulin and our geriatrics are cats that are 10 years or older. Our average age in our geriatrics is 15. They’re old and probably living their last years here with us.

Are those cats able to be adopted?

If someone wants to adopt a special needs cat that has FIV or FELV and they have other cats at home, with FIV it’s not a big deal because it’s not easily contracted. But if they do want to adopt an FELV cat, they can vaccinate their cats at home. There is a vaccine. It’s 99.9% effective or you can vaccinate your cats and they will not contract the FELV.

And didn’t you say earlier that you have some support for people who do want to take one of these cats home and give them forever home for the rest of their lives?

One of the great programs that we have here is called Lease for Life, and that allows people who are interested in adopting special needs cats to have sense of mind knowing that we will take care of the medical care of those cats right in-house. For example, if you take an FIV cat home and he begins to have issues with his mouth, which is stomatitis. It’s one of the most common side effects of having FIV. We will take care of 100%, at no cost to the adopter. His full mouth extraction or dental or clean up whatever he needs. If anybody has any pets, they know that a dental costs anywhere from $800 to $1,600, and to know that you don’t have to pay for that and that you have 100% support from the Hermitage really makes the adoption process a lot more doable for people.

That’s really amazing. And I also noticed in your brochure that you have several other programs. Could you tell me about those please?

What also makes us special is all of the programs that we have. We do believe in community impact and helping others. One of my favorite programs, I shouldn’t say favorite, but it is one of my favorites, is our Meows for Military. And we go every week and see veterans who are on hospice care, meaning they’re on their last breaths, their last time of their lives. And this is the only chance they’re going to see to spend time with a little kitty. And we go every week to see them, and I just have a short story that really impacted me. We had a gentleman who had not spoken in six months and he was in his last couple of months of life and Tenzin, which is one of our, or was, he got adopted by a veteran. Funny enough. But Tenzin was going every week and one day he said, “Tenzin, you’re here to see me.”

And all of the staff kind of just stopped and were like, oh my God, he spoke. He spoke for the first time in months and he died a week later. Those types of programs that really affect those that need that extra compassion and love from someone that’s not a human really is impactful. We also have Snuggles for Seniors and that is where we visit senior living homes and bring the cats there. Also a lot of adults that have dementia who are struggling in those situations, when they see the cats, it just really brings them out of a depressive state. There’s a lot of healing tendencies with a purr from a cat. We also serve various children programs that we have here. We have Kid’s Club where we teach about spay and neuter, taking care of your cat, really understanding the responsibilities of being a good pet owner.

We have Cat Camp. We have Read to a Cat. We have Cat Yoga, so there’s all these great things that we’re doing with education. We also have our Food for People’s Pets. This really helps those who are low income, who are going through a hard time keep their pets at home. Every Thursday from nine to two we give free cat food, dog food, litter, wet food and treats to those who need it. We serve approximately 60 people a week, and all of that food that we give out is donated and in 2018 it was over $30,000 worth of food that we provided to those who needed it.

Again, I’m amazed at all of the programs that you have here, but then tell me how many cats you actually adopt out each year.

We normally adopt out anywhere from 600 to 677 cats, just to be a little exact, a year. And just to give you an idea, we do intake about 700 cats a year. We’re adopting out a good percentage of those cats that are coming in through our door. The best way to do an adoption process with us is to go online at and go under adoptions. And you’re welcome to fill out a form online. Our adoption process is a little bit different than most because we do a background check, we call references. We would just want to make sure that the cat’s going to a good home, to someone that knows how to take care of a cat, or if there are special needs. And so it’s a great process for someone that’s really serious about taking a kitty home.

How are all of these programs and all of the adoptions and all of the people who work here, how is this all funded?

A lot of people ask, are we a government-based facility. And we are not. We are a 501(c)(3). We are a non-profit organization and 100% of our funding comes from donors, meaning that everyone who opens their hearts gives us money and that is how we can keep our doors open. It costs us approximately $65,000 a month to run this location. That includes our full medical suite that we have that we take care of the cats right in-house, so it reduces their stress. That’s about $50,000 of our bills is actually all cat care. The rest is administration and other things. Because we’re not funded it is a struggle every month to make sure that we have enough money to keep our doors open. We always tell people a great way to help us is to do a reoccurring donation. And you can do that online at If you ever are in Tucson and you want to volunteer, that’s another great way to help and always come here and adopt because we have really cool cats.

And you really do have some cool cats here. Is there anything else you’d like to add or to tell the listeners here for us on our podcast?

Just wanted to make a final point about adopting and not going to shop for your animals, and that includes dogs, cats, any type of breed that you’re looking for. There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of animals that just need good homes. And if you’re looking for something specific, there is a rescue out there for you. You just have to Google it and it’ll come up. I’m really an advocate for people to go and help and support these animals that really need homes.

Well I really hope you enjoyed listening to the interviews from the two sanctuaries that we visited this week. And if you’d like a transcript of those interviews, you can go to our website at

You can also see some pictures @HeaveninaClassC on our Instagram. And, as always, we look forward to chatting with you next week as we head west towards San Diego, and who knows which sanctuaries, what rescues, we will find along the way?

Join us next week, won’t you? And in the meantime, be vegan!

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We are a retired teacher, Louisa, and a retired physician assistant, Michael, married for 39 years, who want to help busy travelers begin and maintain a healthy life-style while on the road.


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