The Agriculture Department has worked out an arrangement to spare a rare French donkey from execution.

The move allows Sonette, a 6-month-old Poitou donkey, to be transported from the USDA quarantine facility at Los Angeles Harbor to the San Diego Zoo.

The animal will remain at the zoo until she passes a test for three diseases that no one believes she has but that are difficult to detect in donkeys.

The test, which originally was designed for horses, has for years plagued those trying to import donkeys into the United States.

USDA officials say they are sympathetic but point out that because the diseases can be carried by all equines, they must insist that donkeys test negative for the diseases, no matter how long the testing might take.

Sonette had been threatened with execution the day after Christmas because her tests were inconclusive and because the veterinarian team that imported her said it could not afford to send her back to France.

She is one of only about 60 Poitou asses left in the world.

The problem apparently was solved last Wednesday when the USDA approved an offer by the San Diego Zoo to house Sonette indefinitely in its government-sanctioned quarantine facility until she tests clean.

The zoo was willing to help, and hopes to assist the USDA in finding a solution to the donkey-test problem, because it is preparing to import two Tibetan wild asses from China and does not want the deal to fall through because of a government regulation meant to protect horses.