Bentley stared into the distance, eyes half-closed in rapture. He leaned into the gentle strokes massaging his skin, and soaked up the sunlight. Then came the utter bliss of a scratch between his horns.
It was day-spa time for goats at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium as Zander and Lincoln Musselman, along with mom Sylvia, tried out the new Groovy Goats Zoo For You experience.
“This is the life, huh?!” commented Sylvia, watching Bentley’s reaction.
“Pretty cool animals, aren’t they?” added staff member Craig Standridge, who was leading the experience. Both boys nodded, brushing assiduously.
Zoo For You is a brand-new suite of experiences that just launched at the Zoo. Exclusive and personalized, they allow single-family households to connect hands-on with animals in a way that’s socially-distanced and safe.
Kicking off Zoo For You are two experiences: Pacific Seas Aquarium Behind-the-Scenes Tour, which takes guests backstage in the new aquarium to touch jellies, hand-feed anemones and look down on marine animals from above, and Groovy Goats – which is just what it sounds like.
Groovy Goats began, like all Zoo For You experiences, by going over safety precautions: Everyone wears a face covering, staff and guests stay six feet apart, touchable objects (like the goat brushes) are sanitized before and after, and there’s plenty of hand-washing. All experiences happen in locations beyond the public areas.
Standridge led the Musselmans through a hidden staff gate into the Contact Junction goat yard, where Bentley and his colleagues were waiting for some attention.
“Ok, here’s how you brush a goat,” explained Standridge, practicing on Snap, a tall white goat who wasn’t shy about coming forward. “Remember to be gentle.”
As Zander, 7, and Lincoln, 5, brushed one eager goat then another, Standridge gave them a fun briefing on goat behavior and psychology. Like humans, goats are highly social and need physical contact to thrive.
“So you’re actually providing enrichment for these goats,” pointed out Standridge with a smile. “You’re making their day!”
Zander and Lincoln glanced up happily.
From a nearby yard came insistent bleating. Goat kids Marion and Juniper stood atop an elaborate climbing structure, clearly wondering why they weren’t getting human enrichment too.
“So you know what else goats need?” Standridge asked the boys. “Somewhere to climb! So our keepers built that structure for them to explore.”
“It’s like a goat playground,” commented Sylvia, smiling. “And why do some goats have curly hair?”
“Every goat is individual – just like us,” explained Standridge.
After learning all the goats’ names and posing with their favorites (for Lincoln, a black goat called Buckle, and for Zander the tiny Button), the boys put their brushes into a bucket for sanitizing and headed around to give the goats the other thing they really, really wanted: Food.
After a quick tutorial from Standridge, the whole family grabbed handfuls of pellets from a freshly-cleaned tray and fed them to the delighted herd. Standridge answered questions about goat diet, how zookeepers care for goats and other topics, and complimented both boys on their expert goat-feeding skills.
More photos, and then it was time for hand-washing.
“We’ve been coming to the Zoo since both boys were little,” said Sylvia Musselman, watching her boys’ faces wreathed in smiles under their matching puppy-dog masks. “It’s great to get close to the animals again and see the insider stuff. It made them really excited about coming to the Zoo again.”
“So what was your favorite part?” asked Standridge.
“Feeding them,” said Zander, instantly.
“And what did you learn?”
“How they like to climb!” came the answer.
And as the boys walked off, their new friends stared after them, clearly wanting some more.