Big Ass Fans has soft spot for neglected donkeys

Big Ass Fans has gotten plenty of grief over the years for its cheeky name and less-than-reverent attitude about serious things.

The company is successful, making large fans in Lexington for facilities all over the world, but one look at the company's Web site sometimes makes it look like, well, they're just having too much tongue-in-cheek fun.

The non-judgmental public sector has had plenty of fun, too, wearing Big Ass Fans hats and T-shirts or holding squeezable models of Fanny, the large donkey mascot that looks backward over her ample posterior.

And Fanny's real-life brethren like Little Dalai are grateful for it. See, for all the jokes, Big Ass Fans sends proceeds from its merchandising efforts to a small rescue operation for, you guessed it, donkeys.

Longhopes Donkey Shelter in Bennett, Colo., takes in donkeys like Dalai, who had been so neglected by previous owners that she could barely walk.

"They've been our sponsors for three years and they've sent us thousands of dollars," Longhopes founder Kathy Dean said from the 20-acre ranch where she has about 35 donkeys waiting for new homes.

While there are lots of horse rescue groups out there, there was only one to help just donkeys, a stubborn but sweet group of animals that tend to bond only with others of their kind. That means most adoptions include two donkeys.

Longhopes and Big Ass Fans connected at a fair in Denver where a Big Ass Fans employee realized it was a match made in heaven.

And that, says Big Ass Fans president Carey Smith, is how a company can do well, do good and have some fun, all at the same time. Not to mention that every time someone wears a company T-shirt, the company gets more free publicity. Maybe there really is no such thing as bad publicity.

"We get flak for the name, but for the most part, people have taken a shine to it," Smith said. "We sell a lot of fans to churches, and you'd think they'd have a difficult time with the name. I just say, 'Jesus' mother rode to town on the back of an ass,' and they're all over that."

Big Ass Fans does other charity work, such as donating the use of its building for H'Artful of Fun, a fund raiser for the Living Arts and Science Center.

But helping the asses of Longhopes is the main concern.

Plus, Smith said, "They send us nice calendars of the donkeys every year, so it's a win-win."