Tonya Carrillo and Scott Kroll share their home and living space with 150 animals. Each one, they’ll tell you, are their “pets.”
But these 150 pets aren’t your traditional dogs and cats. Rather, they include arctic foxes, tortoises, vampire pigeons and even a baby ring-tailed lemur.
“We do have human children,” Carrillo said, “but they’re all grown.”
So essentially, I asked her with a grin, you’ve swapped your four human kids for 150 four-legged ones?
Carrillo laughed: “What’s wrong with that? They don’t talk back, which is kind of nice.”
Carrillo and her partner, Kroll, are owners of the Steal Your Hearts Exotics and Petting Zoo. Today marks the sixth weekend they’ve been open to the public, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, at 8862 Duane Lane, which is located a couple of miles south of Joplin off Gateway Drive.
“You know, just to be real honest with you, we just love the animals,” Carrillo said. “They are our children.”
For the past four years, she has raised exotic animals — roughly 35 species — on their property, selling them as pets to loving families. On Mondays and Tuesdays, she also operates a local pet grooming business on the property. But the idea of opening a petting zoo was Kroll’s, Carrillo said.
“He can’t pass a goat without stopping and petting him,” she said with a chuckle.
“I’ve always had a love for the critters,” Kroll admitted.
The petting zoo is something new for local families to do on the weekends on the cheap, she said, “because if you think about it, there’s not much to do for the kids in Joplin.”
Kids can interact with and feed sheep, baby calves, rabbits, goats and emus, to name only a few. But what sets this apart from the more traditional petting zoo is the ability to see, and in special cases even interact with, exotic animals, such as an African-crested porcupine or a mountain coati. The lemur, named “Ringo,” is an exotic animal that adults and kids can interact with one-on-one for 15 minutes. These “critter cuddle encounters” are $25.
“How often do you get to do that?” she said of the chance to hold a sleeping baby lemur in your arms.
And to see the interactions between the animals and children is priceless, she said: “I think it really makes the kids feel (happy). I’d much rather see them here than playing on their electronics.”
Plus, it teaches children empathy.
“They absorb what we tell them,” Carrillo said. “It’s a learning, educational experience.”
The petting zoo is a licensed USDA facility with accreditation through the Missouri Department of Conservation, with safety barriers between the exotic animals and the visiting humans. Volunteers are on-hand to ensure the animals are watched and safe-guarded from harm.
Tickets are $8 per person for a two-hour visit; children ages 3 and younger get in free. Feed cups for the animals are $1. Birthday parties at the zoo are also available, $150 for 90 minutes.
Spending time with animals, Kroll said, “brings a lot of joy to a lot of people — that’s why we love them.”
Address correspondence to Kevin McClintock, c/o The Joplin Globe, Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.