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PETS AND THEIR PEOPLE




Inside East Sacramento
Ma r c h • 2 0 0 6

Party Animals
Budding cowboys and girls get the ride of a lifetime


By Sue Owens Wright

“Howdy, partner!” Four-year-old Max doffs his new black cowboy hat as his mom, Wendy, tightens the buckle on his chaps. At first, Max’s birthday party seems like any other you might encounter on a quiet street in East Sacramento, until you hear the clip-clop of hooves and see the pony coming down the sidewalk. Could the strange-looking equestrian riding not so tall in the saddle be a barnyard fowl? Is that curly-coated creature over there a large woolly dog or a sheep? It’s all part of the petting zoo on my neighbor’s front lawn.

“I’ve lived here for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this before,” I comment to another stunned resident as I walk past with my basset hound, who clearly wants to join the fray in the hay. Bubba sniffs curiously at Bucky, the pygmy goat munching feed from a bucket. If there were a cartoon thought bubble above the hound’s head, it would say, “What kind of a dog has horns?”

Several children are gathered inside the fence where some fuzzy bunnies are corralled. A mallard drake suddenly swoops in for a landing. At first, the bird is mistaken for avian wildlife from the nearby American River Parkway until it becomes apparent that he, too, is one of the party animals.

“Last week at a school, he flew over the fence and hopped right back inside,” says Nancy Cuevas, owner of Pony Rides by Nancy Petting Zoo.

Cuevas has loved animals all her life. She has been around horses for more than 40 years but developed severe osteoarthritis in her hips and can no longer ride them herself. “I’d feel it for days afterwards,” she says, bending over to pantomime the pain. “I realized I couldn’t keep riding horses. I love kids and I love animals, so I started the petting zoo.” Her dream is to make as many children smile as possible. Judging from the looks on the children’s faces at Max’s birthday celebration, her dream appears to be coming true.

“Yee-haw!” Max hollers like a real Texas cowpoke. “Giddy-up, horsy!”

Pony Rides by Nancy, which serves the greater Sacramento area, began in 1986. Cuevas’ petting zoo is fully insured and USDA licensed under the Animal Welfare Act. She pauses during our conversation to caution the children not to handle the young bunnies but to gently pet them. Unlike the animals in some petting zoos, which have sometimes earned a bad reputation with animal rights groups, Cuevas’ menagerie appears to be not only well-fed and healthy but also well-treated. She shows as much concern for the well-being of her animals as she does for the children who are enjoying them.

Cuevas will bring her ponies or the whole petting zoo to birthdays, promotional events, family gatherings, or company parties any time, any place, rain or shine. She also provides pony rides on her ranch. “Be sure to bring your camera,” she says.

Cuevas boosts the birthday boy onto a Shetland pony that is the color of the oats it munches from another child’s chubby hand. The little girl giggles as the pony’s whiskers tickle her palm.

His legs too short to reach the stirrups, he kicks at the air with his cowboy boots as a zoo helper guides the pony slowly down the street. Riding along the Old Asphalt Trail, Max is followed by another child atop a miniature mule, plus three pygmy goats and a nosy basset hound.

“This is going to be a tough act to follow,” a neighbor says to Max’s mom. What will you do for his next birthday?”

Wendy laughs. “Next year we’re going to Chuck E Cheese’s.”


For more information, call Pony Rides by Nancy at (530) 633-9400 or visit geocities.com/ponyrides_nancy/.


Sue Owens Wright is a five-time nominee of the Maxwell Award from the Dog Writers’ Association of America and won a Maxwell in 2003. She is a fancier and rescuer of basset hounds, which are often featured in her books and essays. For more information about the author, visit beanieandcruiser.com.



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