Queen Of The Animal Kingdom
Christy Wong of Kaua‘i Animal Education Center has spent years rescuing abandoned and abused livestock. Now, in their new home, those same animals are the cornerstones for teaching the community how to care for members of the animal kingdom.
A friendly white goat with a pink collar, who goes by Pīkake, follows Christy Wong around the gorgeous grounds of Kaua‘i Animal Education Center at Keālia Farm. Pīkake is seeking affection and perhaps a tasty treat from Wong, who provides an exclusive tour of the nonprofit’s new eastside digs. Pīkake is one of about 100 rescued animals that have been abandoned, abused or neglected, who Wong and her husband, Keola, have generously taken into their care.
The organization started as Wong’s Traveling Pet Zoo in 2012 and housed some 200 animals. After a couple of years, the animals found new homes, and Wong and Keola, with whom she has three daughters — Leilanna (15), Kaile‘a (13) and Kaiwi (8) — moved to the Mainland for a brief period. Once they returned to Kaua‘i, she set out on an unstoppable mission to reopen the traveling zoo business, as well as create a nonprofit that could help fulfill the need for animal rescue on the island.
Kaua‘i Animal Education Center reopened its doors late last year, and has moved to its new location at Keālia Farm. The effort has since morphed into a full-fledged operation that offers all kinds of opportunities for keiki and adults to learn about farm animals. In fact, the nonprofit is launching new programs left and right, including pet therapy workshops and “living classrooms,” where families visit the farm to learn animal husbandry skills.
Kaua‘i Animal Education Center is also open to the public for self-guided visits Mondays and Fridays from 4 to 5 p.m., as well as scheduled tours on weekends that allow guests to interact and receive hands-on experiences with all of the cute creatures.
“Sometimes I think one of my roles was serving as head cheerleader,” says John Latkiewicz, director for Hawai‘i Small Business Development Center on Kaua‘i, who helped Wong develop a business plan. “It’s been amazing watching them grow into their roles in these efforts. They have been persistent, to say the least. They have also never shied away from the challenges or from the opportunities to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zone. I know that they will succeed.”
They’ve already proven him right. The animals, like a little pig named Honey Girl, seem happy and well-adjusted in their new home.
Another success story is Loosey Goosey, whose owner, Monique Chow, was forced to move and could no longer care for him. While it was difficult for her to bring him to Kaua‘i Animal Education Center, Chow knew it was the best choice, especially because she gets to visit her beloved bird any time.
“She (Wong) makes me feel very welcome, and I know he’s in good hands; it’s such a relief,” says Chow. “Her loving style, the way she’s just open arms to people and animals alike; she embodies the aloha spirit.”
Wong, a Kapa‘a High School grad, credits her love for animals to her genetics. Though she was adopted and grew up on Kaua‘i, she recently met her blood relatives on the Mainland and learned that her grandfather had a similar passion for saving animals.
“He brought home all kinds of crazy critters,” she says.
She started collecting her own creatures after marrying Keola and deciding that the geese, chickens and other animals he raised just couldn’t be slaughtered.
“It was like the latest iPad craze for us but instead, we got a miniature goat,” jokes Wong. Her full-time job as a fifth-grade education assistant at Kanuikapono Charter School kicked off Kaua‘i Animal Education Center’s focus on keiki tutelage.
Many programs, like pet therapy and camps for keiki ages 8-12, take place on property during school breaks where all kinds of educational opportunities take place. They’ve also formed a partnership with Kapa‘a High School in which students visit the farm and volunteer their time caring for the animals.
“They (the Wongs) are some of the most amazing people I’ve met on this island,” says volunteer Kera Parker. “They’re hard working and dedicated to a cause; they’re motivated. Christy has a vision and knows what to do and isn’t letting anything get in the way. I just have so much respect for that.”
Fletcher Parker, who has a chicken operation at Keālia Farm, is also part of Kaua‘i Animal Education Center’s educational efforts.
He allows keiki visits to his nearby business to show them that it’s possible not to have a cookie cutter-job and that agriculture is a viable option as a career.
Wong can’t put into words how happy she is to provide these experiences to people of all ages, and to give animals in need good homes.
“I applaud and support their efforts,” says Latkiewicz. “The island will be a better place for the education and care that the animal education center can provide.”
Visit kauaianimaleducationcenter.org for more information or follow them on Facebook or Instagram (@kaec16).