TEMPLE, Texas (AP) - East of Temple, down a series of winding country lanes, there is an old farm, and dozens of tiny hooves.
The Temple Daily Telegram reports Shelby Michalewicz started Tiny Hooves Rescue and Petting Zoo about four years ago, after she and her husband moved to her family’s old farm. Originally, she had planned to have a career as a veterinarian.
“I wanted to have a purpose,” Michalewicz said. “I was in an accident when I was in high school and it affected my memory. When I tried to go to college, I couldn’t remember the things that I need to remember to be a veterinarian.”
Life happened - Michalewicz married and had a baby, but she still kept searching for her purpose.
“I prayed on it a lot,” she said. “I kept praying, and people started bringing me animals, and I started taking them.”
As the animals started piling up, so did the expenses. That’s how the traveling petting zoo part of Tiny Hooves was born. Assisted by volunteers, Michalewicz takes a few of her friendlier animals around to different events and institutions to hold temporary petting zoos and uses the fees from that outreach to feed and house the animals.
“We offer nursing home therapy,” Michalewicz said. “We’ll take . small animal varieties that we can pass along to each resident and give each of them an opportunity to hold and love on an animal.”
Michalewicz’s animals come from a variety of backgrounds. Some of them were pets that turned out to be more of a commitment than their owners expected. “Mini” pigs turn up at Michalewicz’s farm fairly often - people buy them expecting them to stay smaller than they do.
“There’s over 30 breeds of potbelly pigs, so when people say ‘mini’ pigs they’re referring to a potbelly pig, which is under 500 pounds, versus a meat hog, which gets upwards of 1,000-1,500 pounds,” Michalewicz said. “There’s so many different varieties and sizes of potbelly pigs.”
After rescuing a couple of pigs who turned out to be pregnant, Michalewicz has a number of piglets that will be available for adoption to suitable homes, and she estimates they will eventually each weigh between 60 and 100 pounds.
“But if they’re overfed . they can get into 250-300 pounds,” she said. “Our largest potbelly is probably around 300, 350.”
Pet piglets are often advertised as “teacup” pigs to sound as though they will not grow very large, but according to the American Mini Pig Association there is no specific breed called a teacup pig, and all healthy adult pigs eventually get to at least 15 inches tall and 60 pounds minimum.
Right now, Tiny Hooves’ flock includes geese, turkeys, ducks, chickens, emus, goats, cows, a pony, a llama, pigs, rabbits, chinchillas, hedgehogs, parrots and a Brazilian opossum.
Some animals brought to Tiny Hooves are suitable for adoption as pets eventually; others will live out their lives at the farm.
“They all stay here as long as they need to,” Michalewicz said. “If we get large numbers . and we find them being pet quality, then we do adopt them out. We do have some meaner animals that we keep that are not eligible to be adopted.”
Tiny Hooves animals also are available to visit birthday parties, business parties or other events. Michalewicz can be contacted through her Facebook page www.facebook.com/tinyhoovespettingzoo/ to make arrangements.
Currently, the farm houses an unfriendly commercial turkey who would not make a good pet.
“She’s a meat turkey - we rescued her last year from being at (a) show, instead of going on the meat truck,” Michalewicz said.
Youth animal shows are a common source of animals for Tiny Hooves. Livestock at shows are either sold as breeding animals if they are high quality or as meat animals. But not every young animal showman wants his or her exhibit to go to a slaughterhouse.
“I showed animals whenever I was younger,” Michalewicz said. “I know all about having to raise them and then let them go. . That’s another part of why I rescue now, because whenever a little kid comes to me and goes ‘I don’t want my animal to die,’ I’m like, ‘I know.’”
Information from: Temple (Texas) Daily Telegram, http://www.tdtnews.com
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