NORTH MANCHESTER, Ind. — When people are looking for a unique to way to wish someone a happy birthday, they turn to Joni Cripe, owner of Animal-Grams, and her four-legged friends.

“Animal-Grams is entertainment with live animals for any occasion or any reason,” she said.

Cripe noted that she first began the business back in 1980 with an animal show that featured farm animals, which performed tricks that she trained them to do herself.

For more than 25 years, the main star of her performances were 400-pound pigs, which would give kisses, play basketball and wish the guest of honor a happy birthday, she recalled.

During the last several years, though, she has been using pot-bellied pigs instead because it takes a lot more effort and time to train a larger-size hog.

Cripe noted that one of the bigger parts of the animal venture are the pony rides and petting zoos that she and her five children do at special events. She said her animals have done church and community events, including a lot of seasonal activities.

“We have reindeer that at Christmas time are booked six solid weeks with no break,” she said, joking that they earn their keep around the holiday and then get the rest of the year off.

Besides Christmas, another big holiday for Animal-Grams is Easter, which puts all of Cripe’s baby bunnies, chicks, ducks and lambs in the spotlight. She uses unique containers such as Easter baskets to display the animals.

Cripe said people always are impressed with how the animals never try to escape from their spots, which she attributes to the fact that they are trained to perform from the time they are born.

“No cruel methods are used, and we make sure every animal feels comfortable,” she stressed.

Cripe noted the business is mobile 98 percent of the time. When she is not on the road with her animals, she is at home feeding and taking care of her flock, which totals more than 200 critters.

She explained that she feeds them twice a day, and each feeding takes two hours to complete. Fortunately, she added, she saves a lot of money on feed costs because her husband, Philip, raises corn and soybeans and also provides her with the hay that she needs for the animals’ diets.

Currently, Cripe said her family is working on the newest attraction to Animal-Grams, which will be mini-pig races, using a mini-track and five pot-bellied pigs.

To book or find out more about Animal-Grams, call Cripe at (260) 982-2077.