MERCED — The badge on Denver Boyer's chest says "Pony Wrangler," but maybe "Wallaby Wrangler" would be more fitting at least this week.
The 44-year-old from Medford, Ore., is co-owner of the Great American Petting Zoo, which is in town for the Merced County Fair. Boyer found himself chasing Kit, a 2 1/2-year-old wallaby, Wednesday at the Merced County Fairgrounds.
"This was opening day. Not very long after opening," Boyer said, recounting the wallaby's escape Wednesday.
The tractor parade, which makes its rounds every day, passes directly in front of the petting zoo. Boyer said he didn't see Kit make a break for it but speculates she got spooked by the noise and squeezed through the holes in the pen.
"She's small enough that she can fit through the squares (in the pen) if she's scared," he said. "I mean, she has to be pretty scared to do it but, obviously, she can."
That's when the Merced County Sheriff's Department leaped into action. Deputy Delray Shelton, sheriff's spokesman, said Sheriff Mark Pazin and Sgt. Kevin Blake happened to see the animal loose on the fairgrounds and quickly surrounded her.
Shelton said animal calls are not uncommon in farm-heavy Merced County, but a wallaby isn't an "everyday call."
"It kind of breaks the monotony of traditional crime," he said.
Boyer compared Kit's temperament to that of a cat. Sometimes she shows affection and other times keeps her distance. He said she quickly calmed down after being corralled and was not injured.
Wallabies are cousins to kangaroos, and look similar but are smaller. They are native to Australia.
European and domestic animals also are featured in the petting zoo, which has about 40 animals, including goats, ducks, miniature donkeys, fallow deer and an alpaca.
Though the "wallaby chase" is not a daily show, there are many exhibits featured through the weekend.
Concerts on the outdoor stage include a show today from Journey tribute band Evolution and a Sunday concert from Korina Lopez, who sings the music of Sinaloa, Mexico. Each show begins at 8:30 p.m.
Marketing Manager Diane Conway said the staff won't know until after all the tickets are counted how well-attended the fair has been this year. However, she said it seems good. "Weather is always a deciding factor," Conway said, adding that so far it has been "gorgeous."
This time last year attendance was up until a heat wave swept through the weekend, she said. Of course, she continued, the weather is uncontrollable but it will make all the difference.
Along with welcoming weather, the fair's "Thank You Veterans" theme has been successful. Veterans and families of those in the service have voiced their appreciation of the nod, Conway said.
"I cannot tell you, and I'm not exaggerating, how many people have come up and told me," she said.
The fairgrounds are decorated with red, white and blue displays, and the exhibit halls feature video and photographic tributes to soldiers.
For sports fans, today offers Humpz & Hornz bull riding at 7 p.m., and Sunday features Gran Jaripeo y Variedad with El Puma de Sinaloa, a rodeo and variety show, at 4 p.m. The grandstands are home to those events.
Auctions, puzzles, hypnotism, ventriloquism, magic, art, garden shows and the tractor parade are planned for the weekend.
Sunday also offers several Latin dance and musical numbers.
Los Banos Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gates open open to public: 3 p.m.
Fourth annual Run for the Fallen: 7 a.m. (Applegate Park)
Junior Livestock Auction: 9:30 a.m.
Zumba Blanca: 4:30 p.m.
Salsa Merced: 4:30 p.m.
It's the cheese cooking contest: 5-6:30 p.m.
S.K.I. Karate Dojo: 5 p.m.
Ansley sings Taylor Swift: 5:30 p.m.
Desert Wind Dancers: 6 p.m.
Home Depot Kids' Workshop: 6-8 p.m.
The Skylights: 6:30 p.m.
Bull Riding: 7 p.m.
Evolution: The Ultimate Tribute To Journey: 8:30 p.m.
415: 8:30 p.m.
Gates open to public: 3 p.m.
Gran Jaripeo y Variedad (rodeo and variety show with El Puma de Sinaloa): 4-7 p.m.
Singer Ana Laura: 4 p.m.
South Pacific Dance Company: 5 p.m.
Sol del Valle (traditional Mexican dance): 5:30 p.m.
Belly Dance Merced: 6 p.m.
Insect trapping: 6-8 p.m.
Los Amigos: 7:30 p.m.
Korina Lopez: 8:30 p.m.