I openly admit that I was thrown out of a zoo once. I was about eight or nine years old and left unattended at a little zoo in Massachusetts. (I believe my grandmother wanted to go to Filene's.) At this zoo you could buy big, flavorless crackers to feed to the llamas and donkeys, and I, an abnormally empathetic and dumb child, felt sorry for the black bear who had to go without any crackers. I climbed over the fence to hand a zwieback to the bear, who did seem genuinely interested in the gesture, when a zookeeper spotted me, administered a sternly worded lecture about arms and their detachability, and then saw me out.
I learned a very important lesson that day: Zoos are far more fun when you can get up close to the animals. And pet them, ideally, which you can do to every creature great and small that the Hasse Family Mobile Petting Zoo will bring to your front lawn.
"Our petting zoo began in 2009," said Greg Hasse, owner of the Hasse Family Mobile Petting Zoo. "At the time my oldest was attending North Dakota State University, where classes end two weeks later than other schools. That meant all the summer jobs were already taken by the time his summer started.
"It was very important to me that all my kids receive a business education. You don't learn responsibility, customer service, why it's important to be on time, and how to communicate to people face-to-face in high school. My wife Keri and I both grew up on farms, and we had a little land, so when we learned that a lady up in St. Cloud was selling her petting zoo we believed it would be a perfect fit for our family business.
"Soon we had one miniature horse, one miniature donkey, four sheep, four goats, two potbellied pigs, and two turkeys named Christmas and Thanksgiving. We provided 20 petting zoos during our first year in business, and over time my other three children all pitched in to help as well. We're now attending the better part of 175 events every year, and our menagerie has grown to 13 miniature horses, ponies and donkeys, four full-size horses, 25 sheep, 25 goats, two alpacas, two llamas, five potbellied pigs, 15 rabbits, and 50 or so chickens. Our kids may have all moved out, but our home never exactly became quiet!
"We do things a little differently than other petting zoos, where you have to reach through a fence. We bring children in with the animals for a much more up close and personal experience. We just don't allow feeding while you're in there. That can make the animals a little … how should I put this … 'pushy.'
"People often ask how our animals can be so calm and gentle. Well, a lot of them have done two, three, even four hundred petting zoos during their careers. They're just used to being the center of attention – or retired from the zoo circuit prematurely, if they haven't got the temperament for it. Most of our sheep and goats are content to lie down while toddlers cuddle up next to them. I have watched the mini horse stand by as a dozen little girls braided her mane all at once. Our mini horses and donkeys don’t kick even when they're swarmed by children. Do teach your kid never to stand behind a horse or donkey, but we don't worry if they stand behind one of ours!
"Although they're calm, our animals do have big personalities. We have our own ram, so I often bring a three or four day old lamb to hold and bottle-feed. That's a lot of fun for people to see! We have one pig who likes to squeal whenever he's hungry, which he is always because he's a pig. (We don't bring him along anymore.) Our animals aren't bothered by wheelchairs or people with special needs, so we often take our bunnies to nursing homes where they can sit on the residents' laps. One time one of the goats got a little too curious and chewed through a wheelchair alarm cable, but that was a simple enough repair.
"Elvis, the miniature llama, doesn't mind getting petted on his neck and shoulders, but he doesn't like having his butt touched or he will spit. Elvis has his own sign to bring this to the kids' attention. Of course, many kids would actually like to see Elvis spit, and to his credit Elvis never disappoints them.
"A lot of little kids these days don't even have a dog or cat at home. When they finally see an animal in person, they might not even know what it is. A few kids scream bloody murder when they see it start to move, but they'll usually warm up to something so cute. Most kids are fearless and lose their minds trying to figure out what to pet first.
"A few years ago we provided a petting zoo at a birthday party in the Twin Cities. When we began packing up and getting the animals back in their trailers, the four-year-old started balling. Mom and dad couldn't figure out what was wrong with him – until he whimpered 'I thought they were mine to keep!'"
The Hasse Family Mobile Petting Zoo has two trucks and trailers for their furry party guests, and a third trailer devoted to bringing pony rides. If you would like to give your kid one of the most memorable birthday parties of their life this summer, or have any other need for good and gentle critters, then you only need visit hassefamily.com. Or look for the merry goats and lambs at The Mustard Seed Landscaping & Garden Center in Chaska, where they are known to make frequent appearances!