Evanne Harrison, zookeeper
At Fairytale Town, Evanne Harrison takes care of a mythic cast of animals. The assistant animal keeper spends her days with Eeyore, an occasionally melancholy donkey, Maddie, a red-haired cow that allegedly jumped over the moon, and Charlotte, a friendly tarantula that lives next to a hive of bees that make honey and lip balm for the gift shop. There are also three little pigs, three billy goats gruff, a rabbit named Peter and his sisters. In addition to providing a tangible illustration of some familiar fables, these Fairytale Town creatures are often the first members of their species that children meet, helping to instill within them a gentler disposition toward animals for the rest of their lives. I remember my first visit well.
How did you get this job?
I interned here when I was in college. I was an animal science major, originally. Then I ended up switching majors to wildlife conservation biology. I decided I didn’t want to do the whole vet school thing: lot of schooling, very competitive, lot of indoor stuff and I like being outside.
What is that construction crew working on?
The chicken coop, or Little Red Hen’s House. We currently have four chickens and we are getting 11 more little chicks towards the end of this month. The chickens are really popular because we let them out and they get to roam around and dig for worms over by the Crooked Mile.
Were these chicks, um, conceived here?
Our rooster is really old, so no…he doesn’t help our hens lay fertile eggs.
Why does the cow have long, red hair?
Maddie is a miniature Scottish Highland Cattle. When we first got her, she was mistaken for a yak, a dog and a pony. She’s going on nine months old. So she’s still a baby and she’s very friendly, very affectionate. She’ll stand there and lick your arm for an hour if you let her. Her tongue feels like a cat’s so it freaks people out at first because it’s very raspy.
Is it important to get animals when they’re younger?
We work really hard to socialize them just to make sure that everyone has a good experience. Having people petting you and touching you all day can be stressful. But we make sure that they’re used to it.
Are all these animals smaller than usual?
All, but one [a Flemish rabbit] are miniature. That makes them very approachable to the kids. They’re about their same size. They’re not some huge animal.
Does the donkey share the disposition of his literary namesake?
Actually, yes. He can be a bit ornery and he just stands in his corner looking mad at the world. But he’s a love—he has his moments where he’ll come up and let kids pet his cheeks and stuff. He’s just got a grumpy seeming disposition. Sometimes, we all need to hang out in the corner.
And you’ve got tarantulas?
We have quite the collection. We’ll actually take out Charlotte, a Chilean rose-haired tarantula, and let people hold her. She’s really friendly. Some of these other ones are not friendly. Like the bird-eating tarantula. Not super friendly. But they’re still really cool to look at. We feed them Madagascar hissing cockroaches, really big cockroaches that we let kids pet and hold.
Do kids want to pet and hold the cockroaches?
Yeah. Most kids, surprisingly, aren’t as afraid of bugs as adults. Most kids think bugs are cool. Just because they’re so different from most of the animals you see in your daily life. Most of the time, it’s the parents that don’t want to see the tarantulas or hold the cockroaches.
Which of the three billy goats gruff is the biggest troublemaker?
Fregley, a miniature Nubian, he’s the troublemaker. He puts his front hooves on their little house and he eats the moss and pulls off the shingles in the process. There’s no stopping him. He doesn’t usually get to come out because he chews on people’s jackets and sweaters and steals walkie-talkies and phones—classic goat, trying to eat whatever he can.
Besides shingles, are there any special treats these animals enjoy?
The donkey and the cow both love banana peels, of all things, so a lot of the staff members will give them their leftover banana peel. And the cow loves watermelon this time of the year. The cafe serves watermelon. So we’ll get the watermelon rind. And the pigs love that too. Well, the pigs love anything. These guys are funny because we’ll bring them out and they’re so food-oriented that the entire time, they’ll just be sitting there eating grass and they don’t even notice the kids petting them.
Why is it important to have kids interact with the animals?
In an urban environment like Sacramento, a lot of kids don’t even know what these animals are before coming here. There’s kids that have never seen a cow before. But it also teaches them to approach animals and be friendly because the little kids just want to smack them or jab them really hard. And you have to teach them to be gentle.