DENBIGH, Clarendon — A mobile petting zoo was a big hit with patrons at the Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food Show. While only the brave petted the snakes and iguana, many enjoyed photo ops with the colourful birds, fluffy rabbits, and other animals that looked a lot less daunting.
According to Duane Foster from Exotic Pet Exhibits, this has been one of their best experiences at Denbigh.
"Persons have said this has been one of the most exciting tents they have been to and this claim was evident by the crowd that gathered around the tent as persons looked on and others took chances taking photos with the animals. We have always been at the Denbigh show but never took this many animals. This year we teamed up with 4-H and so we are sharing their space," he said.
"Coming to Denbigh has been great, especially to see the love that people are showing us and how they come to interact with our animals and how gentle they are. It shows that there are good people around that appreciate these things that nature has given us," he added.
As someone who has personally benefited from the therapeutic effects of engaging with animals when he was going through challenging times, Foster was eager to show them off to all who visited the booth.
"The animals ended up playing a great role in my life. Looking after them helped me to get over stress, anger, helped with self-control and trauma. Mi tell people enuh to understand and appreciate an animal, you can appreciate any human being. Remember, animals have the choice of leaving once you let them go, but they always come back, while human beings in your circle have knowledge and understanding and they use you. So it's a joy for me to have these animals," he said.
A patron at the show, who gave his name as Owen, visited the petting zoo with his 11-year-old daughter, was clearly impressed.
"It's a good look. My daughter wanted to see what was happening so we came over here. She only pet one of the dogs but won't pet the other animals as she is a little afraid," he said.
Foster knows how important it is for children to learn to appreciate animals at an early age, like he did.
"I was brought up with a lot of animals, but my grandmother had a lot of macaws and I had a friend, Gavin Hayles, who had a variety of doves. A bond developed between us and then we decided to go big and exotic. Then the team started to grow more and more so we bought more animals and brought them into Jamaica," he said of his journey to launching Exotic Pets Exhibits.
All their animals were legally imported and their collection does not include species that are protected or endemic to Jamaica, he stressed.
"We focus on a wide range of pets, such as macaws, yellow-naped Amazon, love birds, budgies, and quails and several types of pheasants, dogs, rabbits, hamsters, snakes, among others," said Foster.
Outside of Denbigh, the flexibility of a mobile petting zoo allows the team to do photo shoots, birthday parties, and other activities and events that have the capacity to accommodate pets.
"We use them for rehabilitation purposes, so if you're a pet lover you can come and spend time with our animals. We also go to schools in rural areas that cannot afford to come to the zoo in Kingston or Portmore. We bring the animals to them and make them have a blast for the day," said Foster.