A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Tiny Trotters

(Fairyland animal caretaker Jamie Hammer introduces the park’s new miniature horses to young Adrian, 4, and his family. Photo by Maria Rodriguez.)

Almost all the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland live well beyond their normal life expectancy because of the TLC they receive. But there comes a time when they get too old or too frail to play with kids anymore, so they're eased into a luxurious retirement.
For Coco the pony and Bobo the sheep, that time came seven years ago when Coco developed arthritis. And when she retired, Bobo had to retire, too, because he was blind and totally dependent on her.
Fortunately, they found the ideal home at a way cool ranch in Orinda called Goats R Us. (It hires out goats to public agencies and private property owners to remove unwanted undergrowth and undesirable plant species.) And they lived there happily for the rest of their lives. 
Coco's successor was a pony named Dori, and Bobo was succeeded by two sheep named Oatmeal and Raisin. Over the last seven years Dori has been petted by more than a million children, but for the last few months it's been apparent that her time to retire had come, too.
So last Thursday Fairyland's animal caretaker, Jamie Hammer, drove her to Goats R Us. As they got close they could hear the horses in the stable whinnying. They were calling to Dori, who was whinnying right back.
As soon as Hammer let her out of her trailer she pranced over to the stable, head and tail held high, whinnying all the way. Once inside the stable she moved from stall to stall, nuzzling noses with each horse in turn. When she got to her stall, there was a bag of alfalfa – her favorite munchie – waiting for her.
I guess you could say her retirement is a success.
Meanwhile, back at Fairyland, Dori's successors arrived the next day.
They are two miniature horses named Pixie and Scamp, and I'm not kidding about the miniature part. They're no bigger than a Saint Bernard.
"They're Fairyland-sized!" exclaimed Fairyland's executive director, C.J. Hirschfield, when she saw them.
They are sweet as can be and terrific with kids, especially Pixie, who used to be a therapy horse. She runs right up to the fence when she sees them and nuzzles noses with them.
This is also going to be great news for Chiquita the miniature donkey. She has her own companion, another miniature donkey named Gideon. But she's only five, and he's a staid 27, and he's too old to play the games she loves, like kicking up her heels and running and playing chase.
But Pixie loves exactly that sort of thing, so everyone is excited to see how they react to each other when they meet sometime next week. (Hammer is sensibly breaking the newcomers in gradually to their new surroundings over the next few weeks.)
Providing medical care for the animals is part of Fairyland's budget, but there's always the occasional emergency that can't be foreseen, such as the time last summer when Oatmeal and Raisin got hold of some acorns, which are toxic for sheep, and had to be rushed to U.C. Davis.
So Fairyland is establishing a rainy day fund to cover such emergencies. If you'd like to contribute, visit fairyland.org or send a check to Children's Fairyland, 699 Bellevue Ave., Oakland 94610, with "Animal Fund" on the subject line.