Community News

Petting zoo finale a big hit with summer readers

From left, Eli and Will Copenhaver look on as their brother, Noah, pets a bunny.

News Staff Writer

Each of the special weekly presentations that were part of Atmore Public Library’s 2018 Summer Reading Program featured at least one animal. Each included some interaction between those animals and the youngsters who were part of the program.
But the number of creatures and the degree of interaction increased significantly during the June 18 season finale, which was presented by Uncle Joe’s Rolling Zoo of Chunchula. The petting zoo, now in its 18th year, featured several wildlife specimens that city kids — and most country kids in lower Alabama — rarely, if ever, see.
“These are our veterans,” said Wilma Lott, who described herself as the “chief help” for her husband Joe. “They’ve been doing this a long time.”
She was referring to a miniature horse who is native to the U.S. and his fellow performers who hail from various parts of the world. There were his barnyard buddies (a pair of roosters), along with a Zebu (a cow that is native to India); a Saanen Toggenburg goat that’s lineage traces back to Switzerland; a Nigerian Dwarf goat; and a brown sheep from Barbados.
There were also two rabbits that were kept in separate cages, several yards apart, but not for the reason one would probably think. They’re rescue bunnies, both female and they fight.
The mini-zoo’s co-keepers, who fielded questions as she and her husband worked to set up enclosures for the animals, said they and their animal friends have been entertaining old and young children for nearly two decades.
“We’ve been doing this a little more than 18 years,” Joe Lot said. “It’s a retirement job. It keeps us busy and we really enjoy it.”
The feeling was mutual, according to some of the parents who accompanied their offspring to last week’s offering, which drew nearly 100 youngsters.
“They really like it,” Sheila Copenhaver said as her sons —Eli, 6; Will, 4; and Noah, 1 — moved from pen to pen, petting every animal they could reach. “These animals are something they don’t see every day.”
Tiffany Amerson agreed.
“We live in Bratt, out in the country life, but we don’t really have a lot of farm animals where we live,” she said as her 7-year-old daughter Alexis quietly examined the miniature horse and Swiss goat.
Wilma Lott said the couple would continue to roll out the rolling zoo as long as the smiles and laughter it brings to others continues to be a source of enjoyment for them, although she admitted that there has been a bit of a slowdown in the scheduling department over recent years.
“We just keep on keeping on,” she said. “People ask when we’re going to retire, and we tell them (we will) when it gets to be a job. Starting in March and going through the summer, we do as many shows as we want to. Here recently, we did seven events in six days, and we don’t normally do that anymore.
“When we don’t feel like doing a show, we can say that we’re tied up. And we are — on the recliner.”
But, she added, at least for the clients who have been with them since the early days, the show must go on.
“Most of the places we go to now are our early customers,” she explained. We have libraries, churches, daycare centers and Head Start programs that call us back every year. It’s hard for us to turn one of them down.”

News photo by Don Fletcher