Paijah Hollingsworth had petted dogs and cats and birds. Maybe a horse.
But she’d never petted a rabbit. Or a cow. Or a sheep. Or especially an alpaca.
A sophomore in chemistry at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Hollingsworth petted all those and more on Friday, March 24, at a petting zoo set up on Chamberlain Field.
Over three hours, students, faculty, staff—basically anyone who was there at the time—were given the chance to pet a host of animals, including goats, rabbits, donkeys, sheep and Highland cows, native to Scotland, and an alpaca, native to South America.
After a few strokes across the back of the alpaca, Hollingworth was surprised by the feel of its fleece.
“She’s really soft,” Hollingsworth said, then stopped.
“Is it a she or he?”
A quick look here and there showed it was a he.
The petting zoo was a major success, said Chantelle Swaren, assessment and outreach librarian at UTC and organizer of the event.
Swaren said the zoo was planned as a simple, fun event for I Love UTC Week, and she hoped 250 to 500 people would come over the three hours—but that number quickly was overrun.
“We had over 300 people in the first 30 minutes,” she said excitedly.
The animals are owned and handled by Sandy and Lamonte Bagley, who take care of them at their farm—Bagby’s Critter Corral—in Apison, just east of Chattanooga.
They have about 50 animals and, along with the ones they brought to UTC, also have a rooster, pigs, horses and an emu. It’s not unusual, Sandy said, for people at their events to be totally unfamiliar with the animals, even ones commonly found on farms
“I had a lady ask me if that sheep over there was a pig,” she said, pointing to one of the sheep in the petting zoo at UTC.
The Bagbys take their animals to a wide variety of events and places, including schools, farmers’ markets, fairs and birthdays for both adults and kids.
It was a little girl’s birthday party in her East Brainerd neighborhood that Swaren first saw the Bagby’s Critter Corral petting zoo.
“Hilariously, the little kids played with the animals, then went back inside and played video games,” she said. “Then all the adults from around the neighborhood converged and were like, ‘What’s happening?’
“So it was a bunch of 40-year-olds standing around going, ‘Oh my gosh!’”