Business Monday: Rainbow Isle Party Animals brings furry, feathered friends to you
July 31, 2023, 1:00 AM HST
* Updated July 31, 1:56 PM
In December 2020, Hannah and Sean McKee moved from O’ahu to the Big Island and bought a 3-acre farm outside Kurtistown, bringing with them two horses, two goats and even chickens that they shipped via mail.
Since then, they added to their animal kingdom, and now have 16 ducks, 4 turkeys, between 30 and 50 chickens,3 horses, 5 goats, 3 bunnies, 3 Guinea pigs, a sheep, a cow, 2 dogs and 4 cats — and possibly a unicorn if you look hard enough. Some of the animals were purchased, and many are rescues.
But with so many animals, they needed a way to help subsidize their expensive upkeep. And, raising them for meat was out of the question.
“I’m a vegetarian,” said Hannah McKee, a lifelong lover of furry and feathered friends.
Instead of ending up on a plate, the creatures are the stars of the couple’s new business venture, Rainbow Isle Party Animals — the Big Island’s only mobile petting zoo. It took about 10 months to get all their ducks in a row, including obtaining insurance.
Now, companies, churches, schools or kids celebrating birthdays don’t have go to where the animals are, the McKees can bring them to locations around the island for special occasions or events.
Rainbow Isle Party Animals’ first booking was July 22 at a home in Hilo for a girl’s 6th birthday party.
Their next event is Aug. 5 at Connection Point Church of the Nazarene in Hawaiian Paradise Park.
“I grew up going to places where they did this type of thing,” said Hannah McKee, who has been riding horses since she was 2. “Then, when my son was little, for his birthday parties, we always ordered in the mobile petting zoo and horse, and we loved it.”
When the family lived on O’ahu, they were neighbors of Sandy Walker, who also is in the mobile petting zoo and horse rides business as proprietor of Paniolo Parties. She mentored Hannah McKee and her family about how to put together the mobile petting zoo.
The McKees also brought their own experience with caring for and transporting animals to the business.
Hannah McKee is a trained horsewoman and previously taught children to ride. The first time the 36-year-old took a horse to an event was when she was 12, providing the animal for a bride and her wedding photos.
Now, her 10-year-old son Marek helps out with the petting zoo.
Sean McKee grew up on his grandfather’s California cattle ranch. The family has been taking animals to special events, including classroom experiences, for the past six or seven years. And last year, Hannah McKee helped restart the 4-H horse program in East Hawai‘i.
Rainbow Isle Party Animals has several packages to choose, starting small with the Little Hairballs that includes Guinea pigs and bunnies, with the option for a Guinea pig tea party. That option is great for people who have small children or live in an apartment.
They also have the Feathered Friends party, which features ducks, chickens, turkeys and the likes, and then there’s the Cloven Hooves option with goats and sheep. Their cow Buttercup is still young, so she hasn’t been added to the lineup yet.
But McKee said most people are interested in the horses, Dakota and Crank, that can be included in a party package or booked alone. You can even have a horse painting experience or ride a unicorn, complete with a horn and mane and tail dyed pink and purple.
The family can tailor experiences to what customers want or need.
“I tried to be really fair with what I’m bringing and how much I’m charging people,” McKee said.
Prices start at $50 an hour. The largest package, which includes two horses, runs about $500 and if unicorns are involved it goes up to $550. The youngest birthday boys and girls also get a special gift, a copy of “Unicorns Hate Cupcakes,” a children’s book written by McKee, if their parents order the unicorn package.
While Rainbow Isle Party Animals will go anywhere on the Big Island, there is a $75 flat travel fee for places 50 miles or farther from Kurtistown. There are a few restrictions as to where they will go, including places where 4-wheel drive is necessary.
The dogs and cats don’t come along for the ride either, although Jelly, one of the family’s St. Bernards, might tag along from time to time.
The Party Animals are down for weddings, theater productions, corporate parties and live nativity scenes. However, classroom experiences and other weekday events must be booked a couple of months in advance so Hannah McKee, who is a full-time personal injury lawyer, can block the time in her schedule.
The McKees spend several hours prior to an event getting the animals and the necessary materials — such as hay, a stepladder, chairs, a pop-up tent where they house the animals, except horses, and wire fencing to enclose it — ready to go.
This includes baths for all animals that will be in the spotlight — except the bunnies and Guinea pigs, because it’s not good for them.
They’re always clean, McKee said. The baths also are for animals to look prim and proper. When unicorns are involved, she spends extra time dying their manes and tails — and making sure their horns are on straight.
During an event, safety is No. 1, with the family members keeping a constant eye on what’s happening. Either Hannah or Sean McKee walk alongside horses as they trot around with youngsters in the saddle.
“This is every little girl’s dream,” said Janelle Angel of Hilo during the Party Animals’ inaugural event. “It’s not my daughter’s birthday … but it might as well be.”
The girls at the party lit up with excitement when Dakota walked into the yard. They smiled ear-to-ear and squealed in surprise when they realized it wasn’t just a horse — but a unicorn.
Even Angel was surprised by the variety offered as the McKees, with help from Marek and Hannah’s father Bo Ehrig, who was visiting from O‘ahu, opened the mobile petting zoo up to partygoers. She also couldn’t help but be enamored with the unicorn.
What was great for Hannah McKee was seeing keiki faces light up when the animals were around. Especially Dakota.
“There was a little girl who was just so excited,” McKee said. “She said it’s the first time she’d ever seen a horse in person. I think she rode Dakota, I don’t know … maybe like five or six times.”
She has no idea where her love of animals comes from, but when McKee was about the same age as the kids at the birthday party, her parents owned a restaurant in Kona. She remembers sneaking stray kittens that would come around the restaurant into the car to take home, despite her parents telling her to leave them alone: “I’ve always been a little nuts about animals, I guess.”
Now, not only does she get to offer something new for kids and families on the Big Island through the mobile petting zoo, she gets to share her love of everything furry and feathered with anyone who wants to experience it.
“There’s so many studies done that petting a cat or talking to an animal can raise your serotonin levels and it just makes you happier in general,” McKee said. “But there’s so many people who don’t have that chance. I’m glad I can give it to them.”
The McKees are still working on getting phones set up, and no it’s not because the goats are eating the lines (although the chickens have been hogging the airwaves). So you can reach out via email at [email protected] or fill out the contact form on the Rainbow Isle Party Animals website for more information.
You can also follow Rainbow Isle Party Animals on Facebook.