Ana Haro’s three-year-old son did not easily express joy, especially when it came to animals. But, when Haro decided to take him to the bright, teal colored business sandwiched between a cookie shop and a preschool in Lincoln Park she heard about through Facebook, he became besotted.
Happy Play, 2346 N. Clark St., is a one-of-a-kind play space for both kids and adults and features an aviary room full of blue, yellow and green winged parakeets. Amelia Milton, manager at Happy Play, said the space also serves as a shelter for bunnies where visitors can pop in and spend time with the small, fluffy animals and eventually adopt them at a price up to $100.
“Kids or adults come in and they are intimidated by the birds or bunnies, [but] if they spend time and are willing to let us give them an introduction, we found that a lot of people realized there is not much to be afraid of,” Milton said. “It is really cool to see that change in people.”
Because children in the city don’t often get to experience the value of pet ownership due to strict pet policies in apartments, the unique offer of experiencing having a pet and seeing employees take care of the animals is the next best thing, Milton said. There is hope visitors will eventually adopt an animal, despite a process that includes paperwork and interviews, Milton added.
Haro, who resides in Mexico during the winter months and Lincoln Park in the warmer ones, said her son became enamored with the small birds and bunnies, enough so that they frequented the space up to three times a week.
“He ask[ed] a lot of questions about why they had big ears and what they eat,” Haro said. “He was really excited about it and then he saw he could spend all day long there and nobody cares because the [employees] are so friendly.”
Sarah Phillips, a first time visitor and stay-at-home mom near Millennium Park, said she was intrigued to see her daughter interact with the bunnies for the first time because they did not have any pets at home. She added it is difficult to find places like Happy Play in the Loop. Most of the child-play areas are in other neighborhoods like Lincoln Park or Lakeview. She found out about Happy Play through Facebook.
“When we first moved into the city, I was desperately searching online for places I could take [my daughter] to try and meet people and get her out of the apartment,” Phillips said. “I would come here again.”
Melissa “Marky” Lara, an employee at the store, adopted her two bunnies after discovering Happy Play on a jog and seeing the birds in the large front window.
“I heard the word ‘bunny’ and I freaked out,” she said. “I immediately pulled out my wallet and gave them my money to come in,” Lara said, referring to the $7 it costs for adults to visit the animal room. For children it is $15.
After coming by every week to spend time with the furry friends, Lara began thinking about taking one of them home. Instead of making an impulse decision, Lara said she looked into what it takes to care for a bunny.
Milton said there have been several successful adoptions but the employees try to provide education to families who want to adopt. Unfortunately, Milton said, a lot of people adopt bunnies on an impulse, most commonly as an Easter gift, and do not think about the care that goes into making sure the bunny is in a safe space. Along with bunny education, Milton said bird-education is the same when providing information to ensure families know what they are getting into when making the commitment to bring animals home.
Lara began the lengthy adoption process after speaking with Milton about two particular rabbits: Fuzzy and Midnight. The two grew up together and Happy Play required that they be adopted together. After Milton decided Lara qualified for adoption, a date and price was set and thus, Fuzzy and Midnight got a new home this past September.
Since then, the bunnies are happy, healthy and in an open space. Midnight has a habit of running back and forth as fast as he can, and Fuzzy, fondly dubbed “the Grumpy Bunny,” sits, stares and avoids social contact most of the time. But, Lara said, with the affection of any animal-lover, it is the cutest thing ever.