Cherub-cheeked and bright-eyed with anticipation, toddlers emerge from vehicles eager to see those animals that their parents have been briefing them about on the drive. Unless they’ve been here before, they can’t quite comprehend the tactile adventure upon which they are about to embark.
At Andy’s Animal Acres, there are “no nameless animals,” says owner Andréa Buyan as Mimi the miniature sheep shadowed her every move. The petting zoo, located just outside Penticton, BC at 1154 Three Mile Road on the way to Naramata, is ideal if you’re looking for child-friendly activities for a family outing.
Samson, the pot belly pig, is one of over 40 farm animals that you may get to meet, pet and feed. And as for Mimi, when she was born and laid eyes on Andréa it was mutual love at first sight. Andréa has had a passion for animals from birth and is keen to reconnect children and adults alike with life on a farm. One of her early jobs was at Maplewood Farms in North Vancouver and opening her own facility is a dream come true: Albeit a dream that requires a lot of care and sweat equity.
What she hopes to impart is a “deeper understanding, great respect and appreciation for animals and the roles they play.” She reminds guests that “this is the animals’ home and you are visiting. Each has a distinctive personality and a name to go along with his or her unique characteristics.” It is important to understand that animals such as the goats and sheep are the same breeds raised for our food. She says, “I feel that in many cases now, there is a disconnect of where our food comes from. Children need to know that these type of animals are where the milk, eggs and meat packaged so tidily in the grocery stores is sourced.”
It’s not a matter of advocating vegetarianism – Andréa eats poultry and fish but not other meat. “Rather I believe we need to be more conscious of our food choices and everything that brings our meal to the table.”
Families are encouraged to pack a lunch for themselves as well as a few carrots and tops, apples and lettuce to feed the residents. Spend some time with the animals, take a mid-visit break to relax with your lunch in the covered picnic area, and meet a few more before closing.
Another benefit Andréa witnesses in children visiting is that they learn to slow down a bit. “There’s so much instant gratification for kids in games and fast food. Here we tell them not to chase the animals. We let them know if they want to interact that the best thing is to sit down or stand still in the pen and wait for the animals to come to them. They soon learn the rewards of that approach and by the end of their visit here, the kids calm down noticeably.”
I noticed one sweet little red-haired guy named Oskar McGahan who started out his visit gingerly clinging closely to his Mom and Dad. By the time, they were ready to leave, Oskar’s smile indicated that he had become quite comfortable and enamored with his new animal friends. Perhaps, Oskar’s family will be buying a season’s pass like another family I met there.
Daily gate fee (cash only please) is $7 with children under one-years old free, and a family of four is $25. The season’s pass for a family of four is $125. It is closed in winter months and opens on weekends in the spring. During the summer months, it is daily 10 am to 2 pm. Andréa is protective of her residents and maintains that a four-hour stint is enough time for them to interact with guests. At closing, most pens are opened and the animals roam freely throughout the farm. Andy’s provides a fun venue for a birthday party and does programs for students during the school year.
As you learn more about all the individual animals residing there, you’ll find out that most of them have been rescued from some sort of distressed situation. For example, Zoe at 24 years is the oldest pony who was overused in a Vancouver barn. Now she’ll live out her days being admired and pet by the kids, only occasionally providing a pony ride for the tiniest guests. Younger, more healthy and larger ponies provide the ever popular $5 ride around the pasture up the hill to the magnificent view of Okanagan Lake, farms, hills and Penticton in the background.
Dixie was another new resident, perhaps part draft horse, whose full story is unknown. She had been at a trail riding facility and when she reached the age that she could no longer perform those duties, she was to be auctioned. An anonymous fan of Dixie’s asked Andréa if he bought the horse could she live at Andy’s. A severely injured domestic goat was found by the side of the highway and brought there. An elderly couple could no longer afford the miniature pig Petunia whose old feet needed more care – just the other day her pedicure cost $200. In fact, Andréa will accept neutered rabbits that people can no longer keep and will allow suitable families to adopt them. And so it goes.
These good deeds and keeping all the animals sheltered and fed year-round is expensive and with the petting zoo open seasonally, Andy’s relies on help from volunteers. Give Andréa a call if you’re interested. I can’t think of a better place to spend time where you can count on a cuddle from a Sicilian Miniature donkey or a playful nudge from a Nigerian pygmy goat.
For more info: see the Andy’s Animal Acres Facebook page or call 1-250-809-5122