That there is a petting zoo at the Monroe County Sheriff's headquarters, underneath the Jail, causes most people to express surprise.The Sheriff's Office Animal Farm on Stock Island is open the second and fourth Sunday afternoons of the month. Last Sunday was the first time I had managed to visit the place and I came away realizing I need to go back and spend more time (and drop off a donation) there. My wife and I strayed from our appointment in town at the last minute and our visit was short and rushed. The County Jail is built on stilts eleven feet tall and a portion of the ground floor is devoted to parking. The other part is devoted to the animals at this US Department of Agriculture approved facility.The place was started in 1994 to get ducks and chickens off the Golf Course across College Road, where traffic was wiping out the birds. Then apparently the SPCA in Miami found an abandoned horse, blind and starving to death in a pitiable state. Sheriff Rick Roth got the inmates to build a pen and Ghost came to Stock Island, where she is doing much better, thriving you might say.
From there things proceeded to get comfortably out of hand. They call it a Farm but it's more of an exotic zoo with animals you may be familiar with and some you probably haven't ever seen before (Patagonian Cavey anyone?). I asked Farm Supervisor Jeanne Selander, the only paid employee at the facility, how she knows what all these animals need. "The Internet," she replied. For every field of human endeavor there is an expert somewhere and the Web has made research that much easier. Luckily for these animals.Prisoners do the daily maintenance at the facility and on visiting days show off their charges to the visitors. A ferret. And it wasn't just the kids that were fascinated. I got to pet the ferret too.I touched my first alligator while I was there. Thanks to Buffalo Bill I ate my first alligator last year (it doesn't taste like chicken) and this Sunday I got to feel the mighty pulse and the powerful claws of this tyke.
The female trustee who was offering this alligator to the visitors said he needs his piece of electrical tape as he has a habit of biting when released. Further along the jail inmates have built a magnificent aviary, large enough to allow the noisy parrots to spread their wings.This is Fat Albert, a tortoise who wanders at will round the farm.
And eats green shoots apparently.He is not alone as there were a couple of other similar armored animals in a fenced off area.Unlike most zoos the Farm gets it's inmates from abusive homes or from people who can't cope with their animals anymore. There is this fashion for collecting and keeping exotic animals and when they get out of hand they get dumped. Sometimes deputies investigating a crime come across animals that need a safe place to live. As a result the collection of abandoned and abused animals becomes bewilderingly exotic. There is a pond in back of the farm and when I lived in the marina across the street I used to see the porkers wallowing in the water and sleeping under the palm trees in the shade. This alligator was either aggressive or curious but he came out of the water and followed me along the fence as I struggled to get a decent picture of him/her. S/he had back up lurking among the lilies.
American crocodiles supposedly have a narrower snout, live in salt water and are reputed to be quite shy. Alligators are far more populous and live in fresh water. As far as I know there are only two in the wild in the Lower Keys, both at the Blue Hole, a disused quarry, on Big Pine Key.An alligator's lunch:
It is not a bad life at the farm.
The mouse cage seemed a bit crowded.
And here we have three Patagonian Cavies, which I have read make excellent eating. They look as though they had thought about becoming kangaroos and gave up half way. Large snakes are becoming a problem in South Florida when people give up on their exotic pets and set them loose in the Everglades where they have no predators and eat the locals.There's Fat Albert in the background trying to make a break for it.A llama.
A peahen. The peacock wasn't in the mood for photography and I was being shushed out of the farm as it was closing time.
One last pet and it was time to go.
How could anyone abuse an animal like this?
Deputy Emil, a local institution, and Farmer Jeanne patiently posing for one more picture.Another porker, Angel, said to be shy. Ghost still munching away. The photograph of her when she arrived is on display and is quite horrid, with every bone visible..Ms Selander practically had to kick people out by force, such is the draw of the Farm, and I was as guilty as the rest.I left Cheyenne at home for our trip into town, it's still way too hot for her to spend time in the car with the air conditioning off. After seeing the animals at the farm I was glad to get home and watch her sleep.