“Do you mind if I get a couple of chickens?”
That simple question from Shane Dobbins to his wife Myra soon after they married about five years ago has had repercussions they both laugh about now.
"She had 12 acres and had had horses. I just thought a couple of chickens would be nice," Shane recalled.
Those two chickens have now grown into a large flock of all sorts of exotic and unusual chickens, pea fowl, pheasants, geese, ducks and other feathered friends. And then there are rabbits, potbelly pigs, alpacas, goats, donkeys, Zebu cattle and more!
Their love for the land and for the animals has resulted in their opening of Doodle and Boo Petting Zoo and Aviary 1.4 miles from the Marshall County town of Douglas on Highway 168.
Why Doodle and Boo for a name? When Shane and Myra blended their family of his three children and her two, there was a daughter from each side who were about the same size. Myra, and then her dad, began calling the girls "Doodle and Boo" and the nicknames stuck.
Although neither have a true farming background, Shane and Myra were both concerned that so many youngsters today don’t have any association with true farm animals. Society has moved from a time not too many years ago when it was common even for residents in small towns to have a family milk cow and a small flock of chickens just for their own family’s food needs
"I grew up with horses," Myra explained. "But so many kids now are lucky if they even get to pet a dog or cat."
Thus the idea for the petting zoo was born as a good way to fill a need with today’s youngsters while making enough money to support their own animal "habit" and sustaining their 12-acre farm.
"We began truly building about two years ago," Myra said. "We built as we had the money so as not to go into major debt."
Shane continues working in the corporate world for Parker Hannifin, a company concerned with instrumentation connectors and valves, where he is a Lean Manager.
Myra worked at Nucor Steel in Decatur for more than a decade but retired from that position in October to work on the farm full time.
"I guess it was more Shane’s idea for this place, but I’m the one who quit work to be here full time. I guess you could say I took on his passion," Myra explained. "I love the day-to-day relationship with the animals. I enjoy it. It’s special the way they depend on you and the way they respond."
There are three covered picnic or birthday pavilions. And there’s a 72-foot, square playground with school-quality playground equipment purchased and installed by Game Time of Fort Payne.
"We wanted to make sure the kids had a safe place to play and let off steam in addition to seeing, petting and learning about the animals," Shane remarked. "It was one of our biggest expenses, but we wanted a safe, fun place for the kids to play."
There are several individual smaller pens where during the March Grand Opening and on following days youngsters and their parents can pet a variety of baby ducklings, chicks, bunnies and potbelly pigs.
Petting stalls allow you to pet and view miniature goats, a miniature donkey named John Henry, three alpacas, other donkeys, and Zebus "Little Jimmy Dickens" and "Skeeter" bought from Eddie and Susan Stephens’ Zebu farm in Blount County.
Some of the animals have already visited nearby schools.
"Big Spring Lake Elementary called because they had been studying the book ‘Llama, Llama, Red Pajamas’ and wanted to know if we had a llama," Myra said. "We didn’t have a llama, but I read the book and the illustrations looked just like one of our alpacas. So we took her instead and the children were thrilled."
The Dobbins are also reaching out to area schools, FFA and vocational programs. They hope soon the art and vocational students will help them build and cut out large caricatures of some of the animals with a hole cut out so visiting children can be photographed with their faces on the animals’ wooden bodies as mementos of their trip to see the special animals.Still under construction during open house, but possibly completed by the time this article is published, is a specialized duck pond lined with brick for ease of cleaning. There will be all sorts of exotic ducks which are not usually native to our area, bought from a breeder in Albertville.
Pony rides are also available from a very patient and loving pony who dotes on children’s attention!
There’s a small office and snack room and everything is "kid-friendly and parent-approved," the Dobbins laughed.
"We’ve depended on Albertville Farmers Co-op for so much throughout our building, for fencing supplies and so much more. And we’re still experimenting with types and rations of feed they sell," Myra said. "They’re handy and they always try to have what we need."
A small vegetable garden was being planted this spring so visiting children can see firsthand where many of their food items originate and there’s eventually hope for a pumpkin patch.
Shane and Myra "couldn’t do without" their staff of Brandon Mahan, Dillion Stone, Josh Dodgen, Alex Collett and Misty Plunkett.
Even before the Doodle and Boo’s official Grand Opening, two birthday parties and seven schools had already scheduled visits.
Currently Doodle and Boo is open Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., with times for other days and groups by appointment by phoning (256) 281-9561. They hope to begin opening on Wednesdays full time soon.
They’ll be glad to answer your questions and help you plan a party for a special event like a birthday, host a church or school group, or just tell you how you and your own children can enjoy a visit. Leave a message if they’re out feeding critters! (Or perhaps assisting with births since babies are expected soon including TWO alpacas due in June!)
To reach Doodle and Boo travel to Douglas in Marshal County on Highway 75. Turn onto Highway 168 going toward Boaz and travel 1.4 miles and the petting zoo will be on the right, with a clearly marked sign.
Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County. She can be reached through her website at www.suzysfarm.com.