Twelve years ago, Chelsea Phillips said she wanted to start a petting zoo.

Her mom had started one after Phillips went off to college, and she thought it was a fun idea. But, living in Central Austin, she knew she would not be able to have large animals.

“I loved the idea of working with kids and animals,” Phillips said. “I didn’t know if it would do very well, because people expect goats and sheep at petting zoos, I thought. But people really got excited about it.”

Two years later, her husband, Joe Moore, left his job as an elementary school teacher to help her run the business. Now, the couple employs at least 10 part-time staffers.

“People seem to like the way we really put the focus on the safety of the animals and hire people who are really passionate about animal care and educating people about animals,” Phillips said.

Tiny Tails to You is a mobile petting zoo that goes to children’s birthday parties and other events, such as happy hours, office parties and farmers markets.

Their animals include chinchillas, Holland lop rabbits, silky chickens, tortoises and bearded dragons.

During the pandemic, the couple said they managed due to a quick pivot to virtual events.

“I am so glad we are able to bring so many people joy through this business,” Phillips said. “I was so worried that [the pandemic] was going to end that.”

Now, as the pandemic eases up, the couple is getting more booking requests, though they are sticking to smaller parties.

The animals live with the couple and their two children at their East Austin home. The family built an insulated and climate-controlled structure in their backyard to house the animals. They also divided up their yard so that the animals can spend time outdoors daily.

The pair said every child reacts uniquely to each animal, but they love to see children warm up to different animals, such as bearded dragons, after learning more about them. Personally, Phillips said she can not pick a favorite.

“I love spending time with each of [the animals] for different reasons,” Phillips said. “You get so many different things out of each of them, and I’m really glad we get to share that with people.”

Tiny Tails to You