Creature Feature: All Kinds Of Party Animals

Elizabeth Schaffner | August 27, 1998

It's not only humans that have a full social calendar in the summertime, animals get into the act as well. Tony the Pony, Sal the Water Monitor, and the Three Little Pigs all have a dizzyingly high number of events to attend.

Theme parties are in, for today's children and animal-owning entrepeneurs are available to provide a barnyard, an equestrian event, or a reptile house if so desired.

But not just any animal can be invited to a child's birthday party. "They better be really gentle. A pony has to be good with children, dogs, balloons, and a lot of commotion around it," said Pam Glennon of East Hampton, who for many years attended birthday parties with her tiny pony, Cutie. "She could be a little bugger at home but at the parties she was so good. I guess she just loved the attention."

Seen It All

Doris and Bob Willumsen of Southampton have 18 ponies, from teeny tiny ones to ones just a tad shorter than horse size, who participate in their Fancy Party Ponies business. They have scaled down the size of their working animals if not the number.

"We used to do weddings and other events with our draft horses pulling big carriages, but now we're older and wiser, I guess," Mrs. Willumsen laughed.

"You need to have ponies experienced working with kids. Ponies who have seen it all. And you have to do a lot of walking around giving the children rides, as well as a lot of organizing. You have to invest a lot in good quality equipment and you have to have high-quality helpers. Ponies have personalities just like the children do and you have to have experienced helpers who know how to work with them individually," she said.

Party Ark

The Willumsens decorate each of the ponies with ribbons and bows color-coordinated to matching leg wraps and saddle pads. "Kids get to know the ponies' names and request the same ones year after year," Mrs. Willumsen said.

Fran Weinstein of East Moriches operates Tony the Pony and His Barnyard Friends. She'll bring at least 20 animals, such as chicks, ducks, lambs, miniature goats, and piglets, to a client's home. "We go anywhere from Manhattan to Montauk."

The baby animals are free and loose inside a pen, ready and willing to receive pats and tidbits from the young partygoers. "It's a complete petting zoo," Ms. Weinstein said.

Python, Anyone?

If the children in your life long for creatures from places more exotic and far-flung than the barnyard, you can invite all nine feet and 80 pounds of Jenny, an albino Burmese python, to your party.

Jenny belongs to Rob Lee of Hampton Bays. In a former incarnation, Mr. Lee was a plumber with a huge collection of pet lizards. A co-worker invited him to bring his lizards to a child's birthday party and a star was born.

Now, Mr. Lee and his fiance, Debbie Davis, run the Hampton Bays pet store, Reptile Rob's, when they're not escorting a wide variety of lizards, snakes, tortoises, and tarantulas to parties, schools, and clubs throughout Long Island.

Maternity Leave

Mr. Lee's most exotic creatures are Jasper and Sal, two Asian water monitor lizards. "We usually take one or the other of them to parties. Whichever one is in the better mood," Ms. Davis said.

Jasper, the female, may not be doing too much partying these days. She and Sal have been spotted in a state of conjugal bliss and it is suspected that she is gravid, the reptile version of pregnant. If her eggs hatch successfully it will be only the fifth time that Asian water monitors have been produced in captivity in the United States.

Whatever the eventual outcome, it is very lucky for Sal that their present union is so blissful. Jasper's previous mate was not so fortunate. He incurred her disapproval and she killed him.

"We like to do a little show, demo kind of a thing. Tell about the animals and the different environments they come from so the kids can get educated about the animals.

An Education

We encourage the kids to handle and touch the animals. Afterwards we have a question and answer session. The question we're almost always asked is, "Why isn't the snake slimy?'" Ms. Davis said.

Whether your child wants furry or scaly guests at his or her party, be sure to invite the beasties well ahead of time. Mrs. Willumsen said that her Fancy Party Ponies are often reserved a year in advance.

And do make sure that their handlers have adequate insurance . . . creatures can be unpredictable!