MARYSVILLE — Students at Marshall Elementary School got a special visit on Tuesday, June 4, when a petting zoo from Animal Encounters was placed temporarily on their front lawn.
Pigs, goats, chickens, rabbits, chinchillas and even an adult wallaby with a joey in her pouch were just some of the creatures contained within a fenced enclosure on the school grounds. Students from several classes, including children with special needs, were given time to interact with each animal in a friendly way.
“Every year we do a graduation ceremony, but a lot of families can’t attend,” said teacher Kelli Marble. “Rather than set something up for the parents, we thought about doing something for the kids that they can enjoy. We thought about taking them to a petting zoo, but the getting all of those wheelchairs on buses and paying for the travel was going to be tough.”
Marble went searching for a petting zoo and discovered the Issaquah-based Animal Encounters, a husband-and-wife team that brings the zoo to you.
“They were incredibly accommodating with our needs. We got enough teachers to chip in from their field trip money and we also had support from the PTSA to make this happen,” said Marble. “We wanted it to be an educational experience and the kids are just loving it. They brought a good mix of animals here today, with both ordinary farm animals and unusual animals like the wallaby and the cavy.”
John and Kim Connolly, owners of Animal Encounters, developed their business on Kim’s past experience as a science educator and zookeeper.
“When we first started talking about concepts, we thought of how other petting zoos operate,” said John Connolly. “What we remember is that they would sell you food so that they could make money. They’d let you walk on in and the animals would mob you because they think of children as being a source for food. That can be really intimidating.”
The Connolly’s method of introducing children to the animals is a calm and comfortable one. Children enter the enclosure and can sit down and wait for the animals to come to them, or they can pet and hold one animal at a time, with no food to attract others.
“We try to give the kids the opportunity to be kind to and respect animals,” said Connolly. “We specialize in kid-friendly animals. We don’t want anything that could scare or intimidate a child. The idea is to have kids learn not to be fearful of animals.”
The petting zoo couldn’t have come at a better time, as the cost of field trips and state-wide education cuts have limited the out-of-school experience for many children, especially those with special needs.
“You kind of have to think outside the box,” said Marble. “That’s what education has become — especially with special education. You can’t think within labels or conditions.”
For more information on Animal Encounters, visit www.animalencounters.com.