Jim Burnett describes his responsibilities as a director at the Cuyahoga County Fair, including information about the acquisition of animals, working with children and senior citizens, and his own petting zoo in Westlake (Burnett's Pet Farm)
Burnett, Jim (interviewee)
Hons, Justin (interviewer)
Justin Hons [00:00:04] I'm Justin Hons and I'm here at the Cuyahoga County Fair. It's August 11th. If you could state your name and what you're doing here at the fair for us.
Jim Burnett [00:00:13] I'm Jim Burnett, Dr. Burnett and I'm on the Fair Board here. And I am with the poultry and the sheep and the goats. And my mother had pioneered a petting zoo here for the children now called Critter Corral. And I have also the pigs. So I have five departments here that I have to see that they're run properly and all requirements are met in the feed and water. That everything is maintained at all times.
Justin Hons [00:00:51] How do you go about making sure that occurs and that those things are done here at the fair?
Jim Burnett [00:00:57] I have assistants. I'm the director and under me would be the superintendents and under the superintendents would be the caretakers. And I check with my superintendents. Oh, every two or three, four hours to make sure everything is fine. I also make rounds myself and check to see that all animals are fed, watered and are clean for the people to see.
Justin Hons [00:01:27] Approximately how many animals are under your watchful eye?
Jim Burnett [00:01:31] Oh, gee I think we close to 800 or 900 chickens we used to... we've had as many as 1,500 were down a little bit this year. I think there's over probably 140 or 150 sheep in here and I believe there's 102 goats and we have quite an array of animals in the petting zoo. We have Patagonian Cavies from the Patagonian Islands and I have a mother and two babies. I have an African Serval cat which is rather rare. And I have a Coatimundi. And we have several we have probably 50 animals here on display of our own and from sheep, goats, alpaca, we have a raccoon, ferrets, degus. Quite a number of things that children can see, many rabbits for the children to touch and we have quite a... It's an interesting display here for the public. And here we come in... My mother started it for the children and they really enjoy seeing some of these animals.
Justin Hons [00:02:54] How do you obtain some of the more exotic animals like the Serval cat and the Patagonian Cavy?
Jim Burnett [00:03:03] OK, we go to auctions. We have three here in Ohio and I go to one of those out of the three because it's closer. And I buy, trade, and sell. If we have a surplus, we'll sell that and then buy something else we don't have.
Justin Hons [00:03:19] How do the people at the auctions get something like that? Like the cat or like the Patagonia? Do they actually go to the location?
Jim Burnett [00:03:24] No, they just send out a flyer to all those people who have exotic animals and they get... They build up their name list. Year after year, and then they just send a note to the people who have animals and say, we're having a sale at a certain time.
Justin Hons [00:03:46] What's one of the favorite type of animals you deal with here at the Cuyahoga County Fair?
Jim Burnett [00:03:52] Well, they have all... just about all kinds of animals. I have run the cattle barn at one time in my history. I've run the rabbit barn and the horses. One of the few things I have horses on my farm, but I had not been over the horse barn at any time. But it's interesting. The people seem to enjoy the little pigs as much as anything, and they love baby goats and sheep. So that's some of the highlights of the things that children like. And of course, they have that plastic cow up there which many children get a feel of how to milk.
Justin Hons [00:04:35] How long have you been working with the Cuyahoga County Fair?
Jim Burnett [00:04:39] I think something like 30 years.
Justin Hons [00:04:46] What else do you enjoy about working at the fair other than your job?
Jim Burnett [00:04:48] Just the people. I'm an old retired nurse... teacher. I taught grades four through graduate school and I have two different doctorate degree. And I like to work with the people. And oh, if people could just see the smiles on these little children faces and the seniors, they are like, well, I don't know. They seem to enjoy just as much as the children do. The older people come in here and even in the older people, they must bring back memories when they were children because they really enjoy the farm animals and things. And I've had to fight really fight hard with some board members who would like to do away with the animals total and just have a carnival and I'm dead set against that, the only reason I've been retired 20 years tells you I'm getting older. And I put up a small children's farm put on Columbia Road. It's been there 31... 32 years and it's called Burnett's Pet Farm, which we get a lot of schools and churches and things. And the only reason I do it, I've never learned to make money there, but I keep it just for the children and we get the nursing homes then extended care facility. And I just went out recently and did a program for the government group called Weed and Seed. And that was a very interesting program. Many, many children, many of them, I would say, you ever ride a pony before, and they'd say no. So it was an experience that many children had never even rode a pony and they never had petted a goat or sheep. All they knew was their puppies and their kitties. So that's the reason I don't know. I hang on. It's just hard me to give up because I like to see the children enjoy. And I think it's so bad we don't have places, more places for the children to touch, pet, and feel. Of course, a lot of people even here, they don't want me to feed the animals. They're afraid of diseases. And when they talk about the Medina problem with the E. Coli. That didn't come from petting animals, that came from getting bad things, in the bad bacteria in the water hose went to the lemonade stand because they didn't have a backflow on that thing. And that had nothing to do with a petting zoo. But even here, they you know, they're afraid that now that that happened, that we shouldn't let them feed the animals. But I think we're a little far off. But the person I work for said, no, you can't feed him. So I don't argue. I just... and if I would argue, I'd probably end up not getting the show. And then the kids couldn't even see the animals, let alone feed them now. And then they'll sneak a little bread or popcorn into them without anybody knowing I think. I see it going on and I say, oh, no feed. And they'll kind of look real like they've done something wrong. And I just smile at them and that seems to okay it. But I don't think that they would be hurt by feeding the animals.
Justin Hons [00:08:24] What do you think are the benefits for children to be around animals? Particularly children let's say from the city of Cleveland or other city areas that have never been around a lot of these animals?
Jim Burnett [00:08:32] Well, you know, being an old retired schoolteacher, I taught 30 years. I always tell the parents when they want to pigeon or a rabbit or something. If children don't have something to do. They're going to get into trouble. I know that. I've seen it. And I've raised children, myself, and they're better off raising an animal than they are marijuana. I know that for a fact. Some people disagree with me, but I still think animals aren't illegal. Oh, that's not true. I know in some places animals are even illegal anymore. I travel a good bit through the world and I see the children in Germany owning pigeons and rabbits and small creatures like that. In Romania they kept the pig on their back porch, but they wash the pens down daily. And some of them even had to carry water to wash the pig pens down. But I never smelled a pig pen all the time... a dirty pig pen all the time I was in that foreign country. So I think it... I think hatching eggs is a great experience for children raising a baby chicken or two or three quails. I think it's so educational they let them understand how to do things. I gives them responsibility. And therefore, I think we broke down a lot in America because we're not doing some of the things that entertain the children. TV is all they understand anymore and games. And we've gotten away from a lot of our ways that I think we should have kept.
Justin Hons [00:10:14] Any last words?
Jim Burnett [00:10:14] Well, I keep the farm open and people are welcome to come out and visit, touch and feel and. We're on the website. I don't know much about that, but I had that done so people that are up to date could come and see it. It shows our monkey. It shows our cat and deer on the website, Burnettspetfarm.com. So if anybody wants to check it out. Look at that. Come and visit. We love people.
Justin Hons [00:10:43] Thanks a lot.
Jim Burnett [00:10:44] Thank you.
Cuyahoga County Fair
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"Jim Burnett interview, 11 August 2006" (2006). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 907009.