Tailor-made birthday parties for little animal lovers

Whether you prefer your critters big or small, want to host them in your home or visit them on a farm, little animal lovers will squeal with delight when animals become part of celebrating their special day.

But hosting a party with live animals does include some extra considerations for mom and dad.

Although the animals are used to being handled, kids must be told before the party that it is always important to treat them kindly and with respect and to approach them with caution.

At Forest View Farms in Tinley Park, you can throw a party at the farm or bring their animals to your party, says Laura Beall, a member of the office staff.

The farm offers wagon rides as well as pony rides for young children and trail rides for the older kids. Visitors also can enter the petting zoo to pet the chickens, ducks, geese, llamas, pigs, goats, alpacas and rabbit.

Beall says people worry about germs or catching something from the animals, but they don’t need to worry.

“It’s getting harder and harder to find farms for people to come out and see what a farm does,” she says. “We want people to come out, have fun, pet the animals and enjoy them.”

Sue Johnson, of Wheeling, started out as a pet shop owner and a teacher, and then decided to combine her interests to create Sue’s Party Animals more than 20 years ago.

“My goal is for the kids to have a good time and learn a little something. I enjoy being with the kids,” she says. “I like teaching them the responsibility of being a pet owner and the importance of doing your research beforehand.”

She says she takes a chinchilla, a rat, a hedgehog, guinea pigs, a bearded dragon, a rat, a gecko and a corn snake with her to parties.

Sometimes guests are afraid. Although she never forces her animals on anyone, people often change their minds about the animals once they are exposed to them.

“I like to have fun with the kids and help them learn the difference between what they can touch and what they shouldn’t touch,” she says.

Gurnee-based Deb Krohn is known as “The Frog Lady” and brings about 20 reptiles to parties all over the Chicagoland area.

“We get the animals out individually and have a meet and greet, whoever wants to hold the animals and pet them can,” she says. Although animal-experience birthday parties are good for any age, the most popular age group is between 8 and 12, Krohn says.

“That age is old enough so you don’t have to baby them, but they’re young enough so they’re super enthusiastic,” she says. It’s also best for the party to include a smaller number of kids — generally less than a dozen — so everyone has a chance to pet and touch everything without feeling rushed.

Krohn says she brings frogs and salamanders, lizards, turtles and snakes to her parties, but the hands-down favorite animals are the bearded dragons and the 7-foot-long boa constrictor.

Rebecca Cook, barn manager at Pine Grove Equestrian Center in Mundelein, says little cowboys and little cowgirls will learn a new appreciation for animals and taking care of them. “Look into a horse’s eye, and you’ll see the most gentle creature ever. You’ll see this calmness,” she says.

At its parties, kindness to all animals will be a message that lingers long after the party, which includes rides, demonstrations and activities. Krohn says if you are going to host a party with live animals, it is important to make sure the person you hire likes kids as much as they do animals.

“A lot of times, people love their animals, so that’s why they choose this as a job,” she says. “But if they don’t have patience for kids, or they’re not willing to be flexible with how they do things, it isn’t going to work. There are so many things that can happen and change, you have to be able to go with it.”

Part of Celebrations, a special advertising birthday party guide.

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