Hosting a petting zoo party for your child’s birthday provides fabulous, fun entertainment that will keep even very young children mesmerized.
Few party activities are more fascinating to tiny tots-and older children-than petting and feeding gentle furry and feathered farm animals, says Melanie Pien, owner of Pied Piper Pony Rides & Petting Zoo, in Carmel, New York.
“Kids get to touch and pet a variety of different animals. They love the different feels of each one,” says Pien, who has run the family business for 20 years, and whose company does between 600 and 700 parties a year.
Many adults love the animals as much as kids do, Pien notes. “Some people rent specific animals for the kids and other animals for the parents.”
Pien recommends that for very young children, the petting zoo alone (without pony rides) is probably the best idea. Older children will more likely enjoy the pony rides and won’t be frightened.
Other advice for parents considering a petting zoo for their kids’ parties:
- The best ages for petting zoo parties: Interestingly, Pien contends, age really isn’t a factor. She points out that she recently did a party for 18-year-olds. “Parents sometimes have petting zoo parties expressly to introduce very young children to animals,” she says. As a general rule, though, she advises, “Be sure your kids love animals before you decide to have such a party.”
- How long: An hour is usually perfect for a group of 20 kids, says Pien. However, some party-givers choose to increase the time by a half hour or an hour.
- What to check before hiring any company: The most important factor is current USDA certification, Pien says. Having a license indicates that inspectors have reviewed all animal health care records and have visited the farm to review the living conditions and daily routine care given to the animals.
- Insurance is essential: Be sure that the company has full liability coverage for both pony rides and the petting zoo. In addition, many companies offer more insurance options, such as allowing customers to become additional insureds or co-insureds for the day of the party.
- Party safety: Keep all food, babies’ pacifiers, kids’ toys, and other personal belongings away from the area in which interaction with the animals will take place, says Pien.
Equally important, she notes, have running water, soap, and disposable towels available for thorough hand washing immediately after children touch the animals and before they continue with any other party activities. Adults should carefully supervise hand washing for all children-especially, those under age five.
If pony rides are part of the party fun, be sure that pony-ride staff will walk on the side of the pony, next to each child, with one arm on the child’s back. Not only does this precaution help keep kids safe; it also makes little ones feel more secure.