Petting zoo goes mobile

EVERETT— Sugar, a 750-pound Welsh pony, is a victim of city budget cuts.

But the 16-year-old could care less since the new cost-cutting arrangement includes all the hay and pie apples she can eat.

In these lean budget times, department heads are under orders from on high to trim the fat.

So, when officials with the Everett Parks Department scrutinized their annual expenses, they found they were spending $10,000 a year to board the city’s farm animals during the winter months.

Sugar — along with Mocha the llama, Lloyd the Holland Lop Rabbit, and Bryn the Bunny — are workhorses from May to September. As residents of the Forest Park Animal Farm they endure the endless petting, insistent patting and boundless hugging that comes with a full-time job.

In the off-season, they deserve a rest. But boarding fees run hundreds of dollars a month.

Where to house them in the winter and still cut costs?

Ardelle Brandenburg, Everett’s Cultural Arts coordinator and manager of the Animal Farm, had an idea — turn the llama into a loaner.

After all, staff were always being asked by visitors if the rabbits, ponies, llamas and pygmy goats make good pets.

Why buy a llama when you can lease one? No monthly payments. No long-term commitments. No hidden fees.

This fall, the Parks Department launched its Animal Care Lease program.

"There are some people who would like to test drive a pet before they make the step of buying it," Brandenburg said. "This way they get to try out a pony or a llama without the expense of having to purchase it, and we get somebody to take good care of the animals over the winter season."

An ad for "responsible people to care for our animals" appeared in the Parks Department’s fall brochure, said Karen Taylor, the animals’ caretaker.

Requests poured in, and applicants were interviewed.

Sugar went to Sadie Jamieson, 14, of Arlington. Sadie has spent a lot of time around horses, but never owned one.

"This was a way to try out a pony," said Sadie’s mother, Tina Jamieson.

Jamieson wanted to see if Sadie could handle the rigorous feeding, grooming and exercise schedule. Leasing Sugar was one way to find out. The Jamiesons pay for Sugar’s diet of hay and cracked corn. The apples are free.

Since Jamieson already owns two pygmy goats and Annie, a black Angus cow, the cost of keeping Sugar has been minimal. "I buy hay by the ton," she said.

"The biggest expense when you privately own an animal is your vet calls, and the city of Everett is paying for those," Jamieson said.

"Ardelle deserves a lot of credit for trying to run a cost-effective program," assistant parks’ director Lori Cummings said. "She took an innovative approach in terms of farm management, saving money for taxpayers."

All the animals found homes. "We have one pony and one llama and 15 bunnies on loan," Cummings said. "We do follow-up, and we offer people the opportunity to return the animals if it just isn’t working out."

Last year, Cummings took home Dell and Gatsby. "My daughter got a dog out of the deal," Cummings said. "She took care of the rabbits."

For Sugar, the budget cuts have been a bonus. The frisky Palomino is getting lots of attention and exercise. Her tawny summer coat is turning winter white. She’s lost the little belly" she arrived with, said Sadie, who rides her daily.

Sugar’s arrival has been a blessing for Sadie, a Marysville School District student waiting for the teachers’ strike to end.

"She’s given me something to do while I’m at home," Sadie said.

Reporter Janice Podsada:

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