It’s a place where fluffy white sheep and little spotted goats gobble treats from the hands of excited kids, while the bray of a donkey incites giggles in another corner of the big outdoor tent.
The petting zoo is still as popular as ever at the Saskatoon Exhibition. Shannon Halischuk and her husband own J&S Entertainment and have been bringing their animals to the annual summer event for 14 years.
This year, those animals include a shiny black pony, a big pot-bellied pig, a llama and even a fainting goat named Dale.
“Every time he goes to load in the trailer his back legs stiffen up and he goes ‘thunk’,” Halischuk said.
She said their most popular animal is probably their donkey, and the kids agree.
“I like the donkey,” said one little girl. “He goes ‘hee-haw’.”
When the animals aren’t travelling, they live on a farm in Pike Lake.
“All of them have names and we all have our favorites and some, not so,” Halischuk laughed.
She points to a tortoise named Thomas, who she says lives in their house with her, her husband and their dogs. Thomas, like many of the animals, was purchased at an auction. But Halischuk said she also gets phone calls from people who had to sell their farms and need to get rid of their animals.
Most of the animals like being around people, according to Halischuk, and the ones that don’t stay at home.
“Most of them have been doing this for many years so they’re used to it,” she said.
“The goats and that, to be honest with you, we open the trailer door and they all load themselves. Because the feed is like candy to them so it’s like ‘alright, we’ve had our breakfast, now let’s have candy’.”
She said the animals usually don’t get spooked in the petting zoo because they’re taught to be comfortable around noise. For example, the Halischuk’s expose their ponies to loud music by playing it over speakers in the farmyard. They bring the baby horses on the road with them as soon as they’re old enough to travel, which Halischuk says helps them calm down.
And she has a message for people who think petting zoos are cruel, or that she’s just in it for the money.
“Anybody that knows me knows my animals come first.”
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More animals featured at the SaskatoonEx petting zoo. Bre McAdam/CKOM