Buffalo, zebra and more make up family's suburban menagerie

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PARK CITY — It's a perfect place to raise horses, but Raette and Dave Belcher have everything but horses roaming in the pasture behind their home.

In fact, the zebra, buffalo, two pygmy goats, miniature donkey, two chickens, two rabbits, five cats and three dogs are more akin to being like their kids than just pets in the backyard.

Plenty of passersby will stop to take pictures "because it is like nothing they've ever seen before," Raette Belcher said. "It's not your usual pets, but it sure is fun to watch others' reaction to it."

You come out and see them there and it is unreal … but pretty soon, they just become like family.

–Dave Belcher

Each day, the animals together consume about a half bale of hay, 2 to 3 pounds of mixed grains, and plenty of carrots and apples, which the owners say are like candy to them. And then there is the pasture, which is kept trimmed by the multiple grazing four-legged species.

The Belchers had to obtain a permit to keep their exotic zebra on their 2.5-acre fenced property, but they still frequently gets calls from the local sheriff's office, saying the buffalo or zebra are roaming free. Still, the animals have really only attempted to escape just a handful of times in the past several years.

Being so close to U.S. Route 40, near Silver Creek Junction, Dave Belcher said many people assume the animals aren't contained at all, that maybe they are wild -- but they are not.

"You come out and see them there and it is unreal … but pretty soon, they just become like family," he said.

Raette Belcher brushes Miss Billy, a pet buffalo, outside of her Park City home.
Raette Belcher brushes Miss Billy, a pet buffalo, outside of her Park City home.

Hogle Zoo spokeswoman Lindsey Sine said the zoo receives a number of calls about the supposed wild animals as well, "but we don't have anything to do with them." As a former resident of the area, she did say that to people in Park City, the animals have become somewhat of a legend.

"You would not think that you could put this menagerie together, but they've bonded," said Dave Belcher. "You take one of them out of there and the rest of them know it."

The animals have vibrant and distinct personalities that are quite apparent during feeding time, but also throughout the day, as they find things to entertain themselves inside the corral.

They aren't much trouble, except Dave Belcher had to wear hockey pads to get Miss Billy, the buffalo, out of the trailer when she arrived. And Ace, the zebra, gets spooked easily. At one time, he required obedience school.

"People will ask how he does in this climate and I always say, 'As far as that zebra knows, this is Africa,'" Dave Belcher said.

The animals came to live with the Belchers in a variety of ways. The zebra was a get-well present from some co-workers after an accident nearly severed his thumb. The goats, Salt and Pepper, came from a family visit to New Mexico. Miss Billy and the donkey, Chip, were purchased locally.

"Reindeer. That's next," Dave Belcher said. His newfound animal interest came from a recent trip to visit friends in Alaska, who own some reindeer. "They're really fun."

He said he'll have to convince his wife first, but it seems that it won't take much.

Story written by Wendy Leonard with contributions from Lori Prichard.


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