Weatherford Star-Telegram

Student’s petting zoo is touching to kids with special needs. ‘You can see the joy’

Aledo student Corbin Haber, left, created a petting zoo that is held each year at the Weatherford Miracle League Tournament for special needs youngsters.
Aledo student Corbin Haber, left, created a petting zoo that is held each year at the Weatherford Miracle League Tournament for special needs youngsters. Courtesy

Only 15 years old, Corbin Haber lives his life by a simple philosophy.

“People say you can’t buy happiness, but you can give it,” the freshman at Aledo ISD’s Daniel Ninth Grade Campus said.

And he’s doing just that with his petting zoo project, which has been a part of the Miracle League of Parker County for three years. Annually, more than 100 kids with special needs attend the petting zoo during the league’s annual baseball tournament, interacting with 20-30 animals, including cows, rabbits, goats, lambs, and sheep.

“The cows I bring because I’ve been raising cows for six years. The others come from the Aledo FFA,” Haber said. “It’s nice to be in such a supportive community.”

This year’s event took place May 18 at the Miracle League Fields in Weatherford.

Haber joined FFA when he was 8 years old. His petting zoo project came to be through the BIGG program (Big Ideas for the Greater Good), which encourages students to make a difference in their community.

“I was around the kitchen table thinking — my mom has always been involved in helping me and my brother help others — and this came to me,” he said. “It was how I was raised, to always do what you can to make others happy. Every year any clothes that don’t fit us anymore, we put in a box and give to charity, the same with toys we’d no longer play with.”

Miracle League of Parker County Executive Director James Gray said it wasn’t long before Haber’s project gained major popularity. “This thing has turned out to be unbelievable,” Gray said.

“At first it was like ‘Sure, bring a couple of pets and the kids will enjoy it.’ Now, the kids are coming up and asking in advance ‘Are we going to have the petting zoo this year?’

“We almost have to stop the games to let the kids play with the animals because they can’t wait to get over there. This thing is phenomenal.”

Haber has translated his project into Aledo High School’s FFA program and made it an agriscience fair project for which he and his friend, Glenn Seay, won first place at the state level in July 2018 and third at the national level in October. The project analyzed the effects that animals have on special needs children, and how their parents can utilize dogs, cats and other animals as a form of therapy.

“We were able to tell that at first they (the children) were nervous, but once they got used to the animals they had a calming effect on them,” Haber said. “You can see the joy in their faces, the emotions, but you can also see it in their parents’ reactions.

“They go from being shy to running up and hugging the cows.”

Haber said this year they are going to advance the study with heartbeat monitors.

“As they approach the animal, you should see a spike in the heart rate because they are excited,” he said.

Haber said that wherever the future takes him, he’d like to continue with the petting zoo. In fact, he hopes others will pick up from his idea and start their own.

“I do want to continue this because it is just so much fun and brings so much joy,” he said. “I’d like to maybe pass it on to other chapters.

“You’re showing people hands-on how agriculture and animals can benefit others in a special way. And it’s just so much fun.”

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