The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

October 5, 2012

Not a normal backyard

Staff Writer

TARBORO — PINETOPS – A dream that has become reality.

That’s how Bobbie Jo Abrams and her 15-year-old daughter, Hali Pavelka, described their exotic backyard petting zoo. The cast of backyard characters includes Zoe the zebra, Marty and Alfie the alpacas, Ladybug the dwarf horse, Bentley the miniature steer and Rachael Ray the miniature donkey.

“This is like a dream. This isn’t real. This is a zebra,” said Pavelka. She is in the process of training her 3-month-old zebra, Zoe. She has had experience breaking horses, and it turns out, zebras are just a horse of a different color.

“To me, she’s just a mule with stripes,” Pavelka said. She is training her to get used to the pressure of having a bit in her mouth. When Zoe gets older, Pavelka will saddle her up.

“She’ll be trained to ride just like a horse,” said Abrams.

“She has a very sweet disposition. If she’s scared she’ll usually get up and go,” said Pavelka.

When Pavelka was a little girl, she tried to order a zebra off the Internet on multiple occasions but couldn’t go through with the transaction without a credit card. Persistence paid off, as her mother found a breeder and made the trip to Louisiana to pick up Zoe.

Zoe shares her space with Bentley, her “soulmate,” as Pavelka refers to the miniature steer. Once he is full-grown, Bentley will have the build of a “bulldog,” short and stocky with horns and a hump on his back, said Pavelka.

Pavelka doesn’t lead the typical teenager’s life. She gets up long before she leaves for school to feed the animals. When she gets home, rather than spending time on the Internet or watching TV, she trains and nurtures her pets.

“I come home and I don’t get in until dark. I love being outside with them,” she said. Her goal is to become a horse and exotic veterinarian. She gets her passion for animals from her mother. Abrams did faux animal paintings and horse and pony rides for her husband Jerry’s Abrams BBQ catering parties before starting her collection of exotic animals.

“I’ve always had horses, always been an animal lover,” said Abrams. “Now I can share it and have fun with it.”

The petting zoo will add to the amusement rides, inflatables, and horse and pony rides that she and her husband offer for children at their catering parties. Abrams also invites children in daycare, school and church groups to come out to her home and learn about the exotic animals firsthand. Alpacas, for instance, did not come to the United States until 1994.

“They have three stomachs. They were born with no top teeth, only bottom teeth,” said Abrams. Alpacas cannot survive alone, as evidenced by Marty and Alfie, who are each other’s shadows.

“They will die without their companionship,” said Pavelka. She said the alpacas are the favorite pets of her 13-year-old sister Kasi, Pavelka, whose uniqueness suits her personality.

Ladybug the 20-inch dwarf horse is one of Abrams’ favorite pets.

“She’s like a dog. She rides with me in my car to get my kids from school,” said Abrams.

The next animal that Abrams would like to add to her collection of exotic pets is a teacup pig.

“They don’t get over 10 pounds,” she said.

Abrams said caring for the animals has taught her five children responsibility. While Pavelka does the bulk of the work caring for the animals, everyone pitches in. The whole family was outdoors on Tuesday evening with the animals, as passersby on N.C. Highway 111 South slowed down at the sights of the zebra and alpacas to make sure they weren’t dreaming.

Hanging out with a zebra every day may seem like a dream, but for the Abrams-Pavelka family, it’s a reality.

For an appointment to see the exotic petting zoo, give Abrams a call at 266-7974.