How complex are donkeys’ personalities? Find out by going to Palo Alto’s Cornelis Bol Park and visiting Perry, a miniature Jerusalem donkey who – true story – modeled for Eddie Murphy’s ‘Donkey’ character in ‘Shrek’.
“He’s very spirited, rather cocky and holds a grudge when he gets mad at you. It will take a while for him to pay attention to you again,” said Jenny Kiratli, lead handler for the Barron Park Donkey Project. “But he’ll get over it – he’s very sweet and let me pet him now.”
Those who appreciate this kind of exclusive animal insight are lucky enough to live in the Bay Area, where close-up interactions abound, from sheep to bunnies to goats to, uh, crabs. Here are five such places to get personal with animals.
The donkeys in this small park live in a meadow along the cycle path. Visitors can’t enter the pasture, but the donkeys are “very cuddly when they’re at the gate,” Kiratli says.
Next to Perry there is Buddy. The two have some sort of ‘Odd Couple’ rivalry going on, with challenges to alpha masculinity getting physical at times. But in their hearts they are good eggs. Buddy is “very sweet” and “pretty easy going,” Kiratli says.
On Sundays between 10 and 11 am, guides walk the donkeys around the park and stop at the play structure. And on those days at 5pm the donkeys are fed at their gate and you hear donkey facts and stories about their lives and help hold their food bowl. (Visitors themselves should never feed the donkeys, however, as they follow a special diet and even carrots and apples can harm them.)
Details: 3590 Laguna Avenue, Palo Alto; barronparkdonkeys.org
Tilden Small Farm
Children and animal-loving adults are encouraged to interact with the residents of this working farm, dedicated to preserving rare crops and livestock. Depending on the time of year, visitors can watch shorthorn cattle being milked or a sow tending piglets. Or they can channel Lennie from “Of Mice and Men” and pet fluffy Dutch rabbits while learning surprising facts like rabbits eat their own poop for nutrients and have a digestive system that makes up 40 percent of their bodies.
The farm offers a variety of kid-friendly activities, such as taking care of the chickens and storytelling with classic farm tales. Best of all, you can feed most animals with celery and lettuce, if you bring your own.
Details: In the Tilden Regional Park on the north side of Central Park Drive, Berkeley; 510-544-2233, ebparks.org/parks/tilden-nature-area
Crab Cove . Visitor Center
Who says eels don’t deserve love too? At this small but charming establishment, visitors can ogle sea creatures in an 800-gallon aquarium and participate in activities such as building a “crab from within” or getting a “view of the mudflats from a sea pier.” There are weekend feeding times to watch crabs and fish scavenge for treats, and educational programs themed to ‘Amazing Jellies’ and ‘Tern Time’.
The fun continues outdoors at the Crab Cove Marine Protected Area where, when the tide is right, you can observe a variety of shoreline critters performing their important duties. Do not disturb or collect, though.
Details: 1252 McKay Avenue, Alameda; 510-544-3187, ebparks.org/parks/visitor-centers/crab-cove
Historic Ardenwood Farm
Want to know what East Bay farming was like over 100 years ago? Ardenwood meets a simulacrum of life at the time, including a blacksmith shop, volunteers in period costumes, and tons of farm animals. The composition of the menagerie changes regularly, but includes goats, cows, sheep, rabbits, turkeys and free-roaming peacocks.
On certain days, visitors can feed the animals and check the hens for eggs. Parents who want to drain their children’s energy for an easy bedtime can enroll them in a physical activity, such as cracking corn by hand for animal feed, for example, or harvesting fresh hay to pile into a giant pile. (Note: There is a small entry fee.)
Details: 34600 Ardenwood Blvd., Fremont; 510-544-2797, ebparks.org/parks/ardenwood
Harley Farms Goat Dairy
goats. goats. More goats. Folks who love these mischievous rectangular-legged animals will thoroughly enjoy Pescadero’s Harley Farms, where you can stop by every day to watch them munching in their pasture.
Enthusiasts may want to consider paying $55 for a longer tour that goes deep into the ranch with its dairy goats, Anatolian sheepdogs, and an alpaca named “Gentleman Jim.” During the spring you will definitely see baby boys, both goat and human. And at the end there’s the farm shop with its plethora of goat products, from body lotions and soaps to cheesecake and chevre.
Details: 205 North Street, Pescadero; harleyfarms.com