Chantal Boudreau’s son Etienne got a chance to get close to some exotic animals on Saturday morning, away from the crowds and noise.
For an hour, Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo held a special free session at the Halifax Forum for people with special needs like Etienne, who has autism.
“Etienne loves going out, but the experience is often dampened by his response to crowds. He can get quite anxious and have a meltdown,” said Boudreau. “The responses from people who don’t understand what he’s dealing with just makes things worse.”
This is one of the reasons Boudreau was excited to see her son interacting with the animals.
“I know he was running up to the door to get in here, so it’s great to see him so excited about stuff and he’s been patting some of the animals,” she said.
Paul Raymond Goulet, also known as Little Ray, started Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo in 2000. It mainly consists of rescued animals.
Goulet started this special needs session in 2011, when someone asked if he had considered the idea of devoting a particular time slot to autistic children.
“I still get chills,” said Goulet. “My staff will often cry when they see kids coming and realize there’s no other way they would have been able to come otherwise.”
The families saw snakes, ferrets, bunnies and many other animals. Linus the sloth was brought out for few minutes, but no one was allowed to touch him because of animal welfare concerns. Sloths are not accustomed to being held by a large number of people.
Louise Fraser’s granddaughter Lauren Fraser who has Down syndrome got to pet a large white snake with yellow stripes. Fraser said animals are therapeutic.
“They are so docile and loving and the kids just gravitate to them,” she said.
Anyone with a disability or special needs could attend the Diversity of Living Things with their families. The event will continue Sunday for $14.50 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.