BUTLER TWP. — “You’re beautiful,” 83-year-old Peggy Hirko told Michaela the goat as the little animal nibbled feed pellets and tickled her hand.
“Gorgeous,” 77-year-old Elizabeth Siroki said as she stroked the silky white feathers of a cockatoo named Coco.
“I love them,” said Marie Ziek, 62, as she offered food to a llama named Jeb.
Thanks to Jess Exley, of Endless Dreams Animals, who shelters dozens of rescued creatures at her family’s farm in the Benton area, residents of The Gardens at Butler living facility recently had a chance to meet and learn about some interesting new friends.
“He likes animal crackers and popcorn,” Exley’s father, Dennis, said of a Flemish giant rabbit named Jethro who weighs “a shade under 20 pounds but could reach twice that size.”
“Coco had a stroke and is having to relearn how to speak,” Exley said as the bird perched on her shoulder.
“Camille is a tortoise. Camelot is an alpaca. Jeb (the llama) was once a 4-H project,” Exley continued. “Emily (another rabbit) came from the SPCA where they were going to euthanize her because of cage aggression. She was stomping because it wasn’t the right place for her. I pulled her out of there.”
Interacting with the animals was beneficial for the residents, activities director John Williams said.
“We have some farmers here, people that grew up on a farm. They can’t get to the zoo so we bring the ‘zoo’ to them,” he said, adding that animals’ no-strings, no-judgment approach to people is soothing.
“It’s a good impact. It’s like agape,” Williams said. “Unconditional love.”
Resident Lois Wood said she’s fond of animals. “We used to have our own pigs and chickens.”
Ziek, who expects to go home to Hazleton after a period of rehabilitation at The Gardens at Butler, said animals mean a lot to her too.
“I have a dog, and I’ve had a cat,” Ziek said. “I’ve got her ashes with me still.”
Endless Dreams Animals are available to make public appearances, Exley said. She can be reached through the Endless Dreams Animals Facebook page, by email at [email protected] or at 570-864-2373.
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT.