Most of us have heard of dogs being used for therapy. It's been found that people, young and old, benefit from interaction with animals. The nursing home where my dad lives has a resident black lab, Princess, who is allowed to wander throughout the home on her own and visits with anyone who holds out their hand. I've even found her on the elevator taking a lift upstairs for more interaction with folks. Everyone adores her. Her companionship at the home is most welcome to the folks there who can no longer care for pets of their own.
My son has been volunteering at a farm just north of town where the animals have been helping people, mostly young kids, to heal. A therapy farm called "Nova's Ark". Here you will find the usual farm animals of horses, cows, sheep, goats and pigs ...
But then when you look a little closer, you see that some of the cows are Highland cows, there's a camel in the horse paddock and is that a Brahma bull and a pot-bellied pig?
These animals are here for the purpose of bringing joy and comfort to visitors to this special farm. The visitors are young kids and adults, all of whom have either physical or mental disabilities. When they come to the farm, they're allowed to connect with the animals. Either by petting their noses through the fences if the kids are a little unsure (camels and bulls can be somewhat intimidating), or right inside the enclosures with the animals. You see kids walking around with a cuddly rabbit in their arms, cats on shoulders and even indoors there are parrots and cockatoos that love the attention bestowed upon them.
The owner of this farm is a former school principal, Marianne. She's constantly nipping here and there monitoring her operation, and offering guidance and help to anyone who needs it. This operation does not run on paid employees (except for the vet). The farm is run with a huge group of volunteers, mostly high school and university aged students. The volunteers go through a training phase which introduces them to the care of all the animals. They feed and clean out all pens and paddocks in the morning. It's hard work! It's cold work in the winter months, and hot work in the summer. But they all seem to love it.
The visitors arrive mid-morning and the volunteers then split into groups of "circles of friends" where they befriend a visitor and escort them around to see the animals. Time is spent just being a friend to these special needs kids and adults. Simple as that. Judging by the smiles on everyone's faces, I'd say visitors and volunteers alike thoroughly enjoy the experience.
There are even some fairly exotic animals to visit. There's a specially heated shed for wallabies and a kangaroo. There are smaller animals tucked snugly into outbuildings and pens scattered around the farm. Guinea pigs, porcupines, bald eagles, lynx and fox are here. The volunteers love having the experience of working with the unusual assortment of animals. But most of them enjoy the work because of the people that are there. I think the animals really do bring out the best in people. There's no competition, there's no judging, it's just enjoying both human and critter company.
Not all the animals are in perfect physical condition either. There's an alpaca with hip dysplasia, a goose whose neck is weakened from eating bread. These animals are welcomed and cared for along with all the others. Marianne felt it was important to have these special animals on the farm to show the kids that all the animals are equal in their eyes.
Everyone seems to enjoy their time at this farm. If the weather is not cooperative when the visitors arrive, there is a large warm room to sit and relax with a few indoor animals. I have to admire my son who is not what I would consider an animal person. He had the cockatoo land on him and it didn't want to leave. I could tell it was making my son nervous, but he braved it out.
Up in the gazebo, there are crafts and games and snacks for all the visitors and volunteers. It's a cozy, welcoming place with a fire burning in the woodstove in the winter. There's a real feel-good atmosphere here that is infectious!
My son found out about this place when he had to do a project last year for high school on a local charity. He visited the farm twice and interviewed the owner and some of the kids who volunteered. This is when I took all the photos while he was given a tour. Afterwards, he signed up to volunteer there himself. He's completed his mandatory volunteer hours (40 hours) required for graduation from high school, but I was pleased that he enjoyed himself so much that he continues to volunteer at the farm. He comes home with lots of stories about the animals he has encountered. It's given him a better appreciation for animals, and he also has shown great empathy in working with groups of special needs kids.
|Some ceramic tiles that kids have painted over the years. |
These grace the interior of the gazebo,
and a lot of them have some heartfelt messages from the kids.
As I say, some of these animals are huge and can be intimidating. All the volunteers must swallow their fears and get into the paddocks to feed the animals. The camel is a bit frightening, and just looking at the size of the pig (below) made me a bit nervous. This pig is as big as the Brahma bull just behind him!!
It's so nice to see these animals and great group of kids making a difference to someone's happiness in life.
Thanks for stopping by!
Linking up with Eileen's Saturday Critters.