I have mixed feelings about petting zoos. I know that the animals are subjected to a constant assault of well-meaning, if inept little hands. But for Liam's sake, I'm glad of them. Awareness of other living creatures came slowly for Liam. His interest in the cats finally made him crawl, but once moblie, he forgot all about them until about 2 years ago.
Dogs have always been a little frightening to him. I think it's dog-kind's natural, in-your-face friendlieness that Liam can't quite understand. It's like, "if it's so friendly, why is it barking and jumping on me?" I can see how this would be especially troubling when many dogs are at face-level, even without jumping!
Because we had 2 cats, Liam got used to, then infatuated with them. Well, at least with Jake. Harley was a bit of a diva (div-dude?). Finding the balance between his interst in touching an animal and it's wish to be touched has been a big challenge.
Petting zoos, if nothing else, are full of animals used to less-than-perfect petting. Every animal I've seen is calm and pretty patient.
For a long time, when we'd go to the Studio City Farmer's Market, we'd ask if he wanted to go into the little petting zoo. Until he was about 5, the answer was always "no". For the next couple of years, he'd sometimes say "yes," but was very shy about actually touching anything. If he did, someone else had to handle the animal.
The ice broke at the Dixie Canyon School Faire, where there was a small zoo, which happened to be owned and operated by an autistic young man, called Danny's Farm. Liam fell in love with a sheep named Lucy.
This Sunday was a big day. We'd already done the shopping, so I stayed outside the pen with our groceries and let him buy the ticket and go in all by himself. He had asked twice to visit the petting zoo, which was unusual in itself. Once inside, he happily wandered around to all of the animals. He got very friendly with the chicken, petting it until it dropped off to sleep.
He was careful and gentle and very, very happy. He's even starting to tolerate some dogs, in short bursts, as long as they're calm. We still have to stop him from using the cat as a pillow from time to time and remind him that not all cats are into head-butts, but it's a start!