In the classroom, a tarp covers the floor where baby animals quack, prod, eat, and beg: There are half a dozen Silky Chicks, some Mallard and Pekin ducks, bunnies, a couple of Nigerian Dwarf Goats, and a miniature pig named Kevin Bacon. Northern Essex Community College has been holding a free farmer’s market all semester, and this—December’s final farmer’s market—was paired with an indoor petting zoo. NECC is essentially feeding the bellies and souls of its students and staff.
Karen Hruska, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services at NECC, says that last year students asked for puppies or therapy dogs to help them calm down during finals time. After doing some research, Hruska decided that the petting zoo would serve them just fine.
Robbin Heyes brought the animals in, and said that the business she works for, Animal Craze, does this all the time. They bring animals to schools, parties and nursing homes. They’ve brought them to Cushing Academy, Tufts, Bentley, and Harvard, but what Heyes remembers most is this: “[On] opening day for [the] New England Patriots I got to bring goats on Tom Brady’s birthday.”
Heyes got into working with animals out of desperation. She’d worked at a pharmacy for 20 years when her sister became terminally ill. She left her full time job and took on work at Animal Craze because the hours were flexible. Heyes says that the farm is female-run, and many of the women are mothers. “We help each other out in everything. We’re girls, we’ve got to stick together.”
After interviewing Heyes, I decided to get started on my “shopping.” I picked up a bag of onions, apples, broccoli and carrots. They were also handing out NECC mugs with a packet of hot cocoa and a candy cane. I bit down on a tiny pumpkin muffin. The spirit was festive and soothing, an altogether different vibe from the usual finals week. A teacher friend of mine came running in. I said that she ought to check out the petting zoo and say hello to the animals. “No, I don’t have time,” she said, pulling out her grocery bag and trying to skirt past me to the vegetables. “I have to grade and I don’t like animals anyway.” I let her pass, and she packed her food and ran out the door to complete her many tasks.
When Heyes took this job, she said, “I came to a realization that this makes my heart happy. We get cold and we get muddy and we get dirty, but it’s worth it.” As I look around the classroom at all the students and faculty petting chickens and cuddling bunnies, I can’t help but agree. It’s totally worth it.