As scores of weary shoppers parade past, two of the Peninsula Center Mall's coolest customers do everything they can to attract attention. Draped in luxurious fur coats, they gaze at passing shoppers with big, welcoming eyes. They pose for pictures with adoring fans. They gnaw on the furniture.
Insee and I.C. are Nigerian dwarf goats, two of the stars of Russell and Diane Odd's unique indoor petting zoo near the mall's main entrance. Standing barely 18 inches off the ground, they're not the mall's largest attraction, but they might be its biggest.
"Everyone just loves them," Diane Odd said Saturday evening as the day's mall traffic finally began to subside. "It's been really busy."
Odd said she lets people pet the goats and even takes a Polaroid snapshot for anyone who wants one. All she asks for is a donation to help pay for the film.
"Anyone can come by and pet them," she said.
Although they can get a bit frisky at times, Odd said the diminutive farm dwellers are very friendly perfect, in fact, for petting.
"They're very laid back," she said.
The goats aren't the only animals in the collection. In a tank not far away from Insee and I.C.'s makeshift barnyard, a couple chameleons lounge under the warm glow of an indoor light. Although not as warm and fuzzy as the goats, the lizards definitely give passing shoppers something to gaze at other than price tags and cash registers.
Both the goats and lizards are among a wide variety of animals the Odds raise at their Clam Gulch home. In addition, back at their home they've got exotic ducks, rare Bengal cats and even emus.
"We have a lot of exotic stuff people have not seen in Alaska," Diane said.
"We've got mega-critters," Russell added.
The mall petting zoo is just a fun way to spread the word about their collection of interesting animals. It's been open through the holiday season, and the Odds plan one more trip to the mall Wednesday to catch the last-minute shopping rush.
"We'll be here Christmas Eve," Diane said.
The Odds plan to open their property next spring as a full-scale petting farm, complete with farm animals, exotic wildlife and even wagon rides for the kids.
And the best part: They don't plan to charge a thing.
"We didn't want to charge for anything," Russell said. "Where else can you go these days and have fun for nothing?"
Although their animals are diverse, Diane said they've all got one thing in common.
"They're all pettable," she said.
As she talked, one small boy didn't seem so sure about the goats. He studied them intently, not sure whether to risk a quick touch. Russell said that's typical not only for children, but adults who may never have come into contact with more than a dog or cat before.
"Some people are afraid to touch because they've maybe never seen a goat before," she said.
With a bit of prompting, the boy finally got up the courage to pet one of the goats. Before long, he was gently stroking Insee's soft coat.
Diane said that also is typical. Once people start petting the lovable little guys, they have a hard time stopping.
She told of two small children who spent a good deal of time playing with the goats. After a while, both the animals and the children began to wear down, their eyes getting heavy and movement sluggish. Soon, the warm straw laid out on the mall's tile floor became too big of an attraction. Odd said the small children with the goats right beside them simply curled up on the spot and went to sleep.
"They all just sacked out right here," she said.
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