Never mind the scientific studies that show how interacting with animals can elevate a person’s levels of serotonin and dopamine, which can act as a natural relaxant. Or that the companionship of an animal can offer comfort, help ease anxiety, and build self-confidence in children. Most of us already know—on an intuitive level, at least—that interacting with animals is somehow good for our health. Thankfully, Vancouver Island is loaded with options for introducing kids to furry, woolly, feathered, potbellied or even six- or eight-legged friends. Visit any or all of the following places to connect with some of the creatures that share the Island with us.

VICTORIA
Beacon Hill Children’s Farm is an inexpensive and fun way to spend an afternoon outdoors with the, er, kids. The farm’s goats, sheep, rabbits, peacocks, potbellied pigs, miniature horses and other animals are perennial family favourites. Visit the goat petting area and take part in the renowned goat stampedes at 10:10am and 5:10pm. Open daily 10am-5pm, weather permitting. Admission by donation. Enter Beacon Hill Park from Douglas Street (turn left across from Simcoe Street). beaconhillchildrensfarm.ca.

Millstream Miniature Llamas offers a guided tour of the farm. The tour includes an explanation of why llamas are special, the history of llamas in North and South America, how llamas interact with people and with each other, a discussion of the uses of llamas today, a chance to meet several llamas, experience a “llama kiss,” and feel the fibre. Phone to arrange a tour. $10/adult, $5/child aged 12 and under. Visit the farm studio for roving, yarn, dryer balls, hand-knitted and Peruvian goods. 355 Atkins Ave. millstream-minis.com or 250-478-9969.

Victoria Bug Zoo lets visitors get up close and personal with live giant walkingsticks, alien-eyed praying mantids, hairy tarantulas and glow-in-the-dark scorpions, to name a few. Discover roughly 50 fascinating species including Canada’s largest ant farm. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can hold some of the residents, an array of arachnids and friends. 11am-4pm Mon-Fri, 11am-5pm Sat-Sun. 631 Courtney Street, one block north of the Empress Hotel. 250-384-BUGS(2847) or victoriabugzoo.ca.

PENINSULA
Dan’s Farm and Country Market at 2030 Bear Hill Road in Saanich is not just a source for local produce, baked goods, and poultry raised using organic principles, but also boasts a petting farm for the kids. Visit the ducks, chickens, goats, rabbits and more, then stock up on berries, figs and tomatoes. Bring along a picnic lunch and for dessert, treat yourself to an ice-cream cone. Open daily 8:30am-5:30pm. dansfarm.ca.

Although the Saanich Fair is not a farm, if your kids like to visit and pet farm animals, you’ll want to mark this event on your calendar. There are 4-H displays and demos, and animals to ponder and pet such as horses, donkeys, llamas, alpacas, goats, pigs, cattle, rabbits and more. There’s also food, entertainment, a midway, exhibits such as quilts, needle arts, flowers, vegetables, photography, and more. Aug 31, Sept 1 and 2 at the fairgrounds at 1528 Stellys Cross Road. Gates open 8am-9pm. saanichfair.ca.

The Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea in Sidney is a state-of-the-art aquarium
and marine education centre focused on the ecosystem of the Salish Sea. Colourful aquarium habitats teem with marine life for you to observe. Hundreds of fish, invertebrates and marine plants recreate the ocean and give you a seldom-seen
underwater view. At the touch tanks, use the one finger rule to shake hands with
an urchin and be tickled by a sea star. Spend some time with the Oceaneers as
they introduce you to hands-on/handswet learning. 9811 Seaport Place. Open
daily 10am-5pm. salishseacentre.org or 250-665-7511.

Victoria Butterfly Gardens. Enjoy the beauty of thousands of exotic butterflies (up to 70 species) flying free in their own tropical rainforest environment. Wander through the orchid exhibit or carnivorous plant section. You’ll also see colourful fish and tropical birds. On-site naturalists are full of fascinating facts and will answer your questions. 1461 Benvenuto Avenue in Brentwood Bay. Open daily (starting July 1) 9:30am-5pm (explore until 6pm). butterflygardens.com or 250-652-3822.

DUNCAN & AREA
The Raptors, 10 minutes north of Duncan, invites you to meet some of the coolest birds in the world during one of the daily flying demonstrations (at 11:30am,
1:30pm and 3:30pm). You can see a variety of raptors—eagles, falcons, owls, vultures and hawks—showcase their incredible flight and hunting skills free and out in the open. Many other up-close learning experiences are available. Open daily 10:30am-5pm. 1877 Herd Road. pnwraptors.com or 250-746-0372.

NANAIMO & AREA
Little Qualicum Cheeseworks is just north of Parksville. Wander LQC’s Morningstar Farm, meet the small herd of Holstein, Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, and Canadienne dairy cows and see how yummy, artisanal local cheeses are made. Visit the calf pens, the pigsty, the store, picnic area and more. Guided tours can be arranged for groups of 8 or more, or you can take your own self-guided tour around the 90 acres of beautiful working farm. Open daily 9am-6pm. Daily milking at 4pm. 403 Lowrys Road. morningstarfarm.ca or 250-954-3931.

Tiger Lily Farm is located in Errington between Parksville and Coombs. Visit lovable, huggable rabbits, portly pigs, daffy ducks, and even shy sheep. At feeding time you can help hold the bottle for the calf. Or learn how to milk a goat (every hour on the half hour). Or count chicks. Go for a trail ride and enjoy the old-time experience of horseback riding (phone ahead to book). Admission prices include a pony ride for the kids. Open daily 10am-4pm. 1692 Errington Road. If you’re heading north from Nanaimo, turn left onto Errington Road and follow the signs. tigerlilyfarm.ca or 250-248-2408.

North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre (NIWRC), off Highway 4A near Coombs, is a rehabilitation facility, especially for raptors and black bears. The goal is to care for these animals and eventually reintroduce them into their natural environment. See eagles through one-way glass in the largest flight cage of its kind in Canada. View bears, owls, falcons, hawks, swans and ravens. NIWRA offers activities and educational programs for the whole family. 1240 Leffler Road. Open daily 9am-4:30pm (gates close at 5pm). niwra.org or 250-248-8534.

Butterfly World, just past Coombs on Highway 4A. Stroll among hundreds of free-flying exotic butterflies in the indoor tropical jungle. You’ll also see hundreds of exotic living orchids landscaped in a beautiful indoor water garden, a turtle pond, and gift shop. Open seven days a week from 10am-4pm. 1080 Winchester Road. butterflyworldcoombs.com or 250-248-7026.

COURTENAY/COMOX & AREA
The Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park on nine acres of waterfront in Comox has gardens, a tearoom, and the Hands-On Farm which is open daily to the public,
10am-4pm. Come talk, walk and squawk with the animals, including a miniature horse, a cow calf, pigs, sheep, ducks, rabbits and more. Admission of $5/family helps to offset the cost of housing the animals. Note: Filberg Park, including the Hands-on Farm, will be closed July 30-August 1 for Filberg Festival set up and closed August 6-7 for the Festival take down. filberg.com, 250-339-3276.

Seaview Game Farm in Black Creek (north of Courtenay) runs hour-long tours, running July and August, at 10:30am and 2pm, reservations required. Take the tractor cart to visit the animals on an interactive tour of the mini farm. Feed and pet the chickens, llamas, peacocks, pigs, alpaca, Highland cattle, goats and sheep. Walk through the greenhouses and gardens and see what’s sprouting. Visit the onsite market and coffee shop. A picnic and play area provide even more fun. If you’re not in a rush, rent the Yurt and stay over night just a few metres from the ocean and public beach access. 1392 Seaview Road. seaviewgamefarm.com or 250-337-5182.

PACIFIC RIM
Visit Ucluelet Aquarium, Canada’s first catch-and-release aquarium, where you’ll get an up-close-and-personal encounter with a diversity of local marine life. The touch tanks provide an interactive and fun, hands on, learning environment,
and the displays are full of beautiful, interesting creatures and are always changing. Learn about the local marine ecosystems at the mini aquarium, and help raise awareness about local marine biodiversity and promote respect for the ocean environment. 180 Main Street. Open every day, including holidays, from 10am-5pm. uclueletaquarium.org or 250-726-2782.•