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Traveling petting zoo an educational effort

November 14, 2005|by MARLO BARNHART

FAIRPLAY

marlob@herald-mail.com

When Carol Benton first thought about taking her petting zoo on the road, she figured it would mostly be for kids.

"But I was amazed to find how many adults had never touched a cow or a goat before," said the Fairplay woman, who lives with her husband and their 6-year-old son, Joshua, on a 200-plus-acre farm off Jordan Road.

The petting zoo venture began when she was asked to bring some animals to the Hagerstown City Market, where she already had a stall for her woodcrafts and paintings for about four years.

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"The second year, I was approached by someone from the City of Hagerstown about bringing some animals for a petting zoo," Carol Benton said.

At first, she brought a calf, some sheep, goats and chickens. Every year, she has tried to add new and interesting animals to her mobile petting zoo.

Now there is a baby yak, a baby llama, potbelly pigs, doves, rabbits, guinea pigs and even pigeons.

"Here at the farm, we also have three water buffalo, but they don't go anywhere," she quipped.

And that brings up a dream that Carol Benton is hoping to make a reality soon - a permanent petting zoo at the farm where people can come to see all the Bentons' animals in their natural setting.

The Bentons used to put their animals in pet carriers and haul them to their destination in several pickup trucks. They recently invested in a livestock trailer, which makes getting around a lot easier.

The petting zoo made a recent appearance at Emmanuel Baptist Temple and has done some birthday parties, she said.

Two upcoming appearances include Dec. 2 at the Hager House in Hagerstown City Park and Dec. 10 at Hagerstown City Market.

"Only our winter animals will be involved at these events," she said.

Sometimes the petting zoo is a volunteer endeavor, but most of the time, the Bentons charge about $100 an hour.

Safety is a big concern, so the animals are kept separate from children and adults by hog panels.

"We also don't allow the kids to feed the animals because the animals can get aggressive around food," she said. "It's all for the education value of learning about animals."

When she married Harry Benton in 1991, she came to the farm where her husband had been living for 20 years. They maintained a dairy farm until last December, when they got rid of their cows.

Now, Harry Benton works off the farm at a feed mill.

"He hated leaving the farm," she said.

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