By PAUL CATALA
Photos provided by LALA LAND
It all started with a box and a piglet. This small, safe pig eventually led to a 45-acre exotic animal farm and educational facility in Sebring, now known as LaLa Land.
LaLa Land is located off Payne Road with TLC Therapy Hooves on a 45-acre farm and ranch owned by Terri and Scott Crutchfield. Licensed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the United States Department of Agriculture, it is a registered and insured Florida agritourism facility that educates the public about Florida agriculture and the care and conservation of various exotic animal species.
TLC Therapy Hooves is a non-profit organization that provides educational farm tours for senior citizens, disabled and veteran groups.
In 2008, Terry Crutchfield went to a local feed store with his daughter, Taylor, and his FFA rooster. Another customer had a shoebox on her counter with an orphaned piglet in need of adoption. Crutchfield stepped up and adopted Precious Piglet, taking her around town until the couple became known as Miss Piggy and Precious Piglet.
This encounter inspired Scott and Terri to move to the country, buy a farm and eventually open LaLa Land.
Terry Crutchfield, 57, said: “It was the first animal that started it all.
Since that day 14 years ago, LaLa Land continues to support and showcase exotic animals and share educational experiences to about 100 visitors a month.
Crutchfield, a West Palm Beach native who grew up in Sebring, says their mission is to promote appreciation and love for exotic and therapy animals through complementary therapy trips and paid private tours.
All proceeds from LaLa Land private agritourism tours go to TLC Therapy Hooves.
LaLa Land tours give guests a chance to see and interact with some of the animals, including miniature horses, continental giant rabbits, camels, llamas and young ones, Crutchfield says. Guests can also stroll through oak hammocks, near the bay, Florida grass meadows and two fishing ponds.
A Professional Fellow of the American Zoological Association, Crutchfield works with sanctuaries and zoos to promote research, education, breeding and training for the preservation and conservation of exotic animals. Her compassion for animals developed in part from her father, John Thomas, a retired FWC chief pilot, and her mother, Ann Hamilton, a LaLa Land volunteer who spent eight years on conservation trips in Africa.
“I have a really deep respect for nature,” he says. “What my parents instilled in me is that animals are here and should be valued and respected. Anytime you need to come back to something, for example, you feel like you’ve lost your way, bring yourself back to nature.”
LaLa Land evolved from TLC, which the Crutchfields started in 2011. At first, the animals were not accessible to the public.
“We always allowed certain groups to come out, but we didn’t put it out there for everyone to know. For the past five years, word has spread that LaLa Land is a hidden gem,” he says.
This exposure led Terri, Scott, and Taylor to establish and promote LaLa Land’s mission. This includes using attacks on property and animals as nature therapy, which Terry tried after open heart surgery in 2019 and at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We need family and time to go out and enjoy nature,” she says. “On the other side (of the pandemic) and looking back, one positive thing is spending quality time together; you have to be ready for your passions,” he says.
Most of the pets in Tulip Land are adopted from homes that can no longer properly care for them.
The exotics at LaLa Land are privately owned or come from other zoos or licensed animal facilities, and all are permitted. In LaLa Land, they are under the care of veterinarian Jacob Hinds of the Citrus Animal Clinic in Lake Placid.
Every day from 5:30am to 8pm, volunteers, staff and the Crutchfields take care of the animals. Much of this care comes from the Crutchfields’ own pockets, donations and nonprofit grants.
Private visits to LaLa Land are also available for a donation of $35 per person, with a minimum of eight people.
“TLC and LaLa Land came about because the public knew about animals and wanted to see them. This species has blossomed on its own,” says Crutchfield. “The road in front of us was paved and that was the way we were going. We are just going the way we have to go.”
A typical tour is led by Crutchfield or the facility manager and includes a tram ride from habitat to habitat, a question-and-answer session, pictures, and interaction with some of the animals, such as Tuda, a rescued and recovered tortoise. Found on the road in Avon Park.
“Most of these animals here have a story. That’s where they hit the soft landing point,” he says.
LaLa Land opens in mid-September and stays open until early May. For information, call TLC Therapy Hooves at 863-471-7045 or visit facebook.com/lalalandsebringfl.