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Monday, June 24, 2024

Animal-assisted programs provide comfort & connection

By Angela Fairhurst

As stress, family life, work conditions, health issues, and everyday struggles occur, pet or animal-assisted therapy can play a vital role in promoting the well-being and healing of individuals across various age groups with different needs, be they psychological, physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. 

Here are a few special programs doing just that: 

The Gentle Barn, Santa Clarita, California 

Founded in 1999 by Ellie Laks, The Gentle Barn houses animals who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned, giving them a second chance at life. They are cared for and nurtured back to health, allowing them to develop a unique bond with humans. In turn, they become therapy animals, providing comfort, companionship, and a sense of belonging to individuals who may be struggling with emotional trauma, mental health issues, or physical disabilities.   

With its Barnyard Therapy Program, anyone who is stressed, depressed, overextended, grieving, or simply needs companionship is invited to spend an hour-long session and leave their worries behind as they enjoy true calm and peace with the resident pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, llamas, emus, and peacocks. Focusing on the healing power of interaction with the animals, the program aims to create a nurturing and compassionate environment where individuals can find solace, build trust, and experience emotional healing through their bond with the animals. While the sessions are designed for people ages fourteen and up, and work best on an individual basis, guests may bring a spouse/partner or an older child with a suggested donation of $200 for two people. www.gentlebarn.org

The Gentle Barn allows humans to connect with animals. Photo Credit: Ellie Laks

The Heart of the Matter, Chandler, Arizona

The Heart of the Matter is a program that combines the healing power of horses with counseling services provided by a partnering organization, Psychological Counseling Services (PCS).  

Equine-assisted therapy recognizes the unique connection between humans and horses, leveraging this bond to facilitate emotional growth and healing. The program at The Heart of the Matter caters to individuals who may be dealing with various mental health challenges, such as anxiety, depression, trauma, and addiction. Through The Heart of the Matter program, participants engage in activities that involve interacting with horses, such as grooming, feeding, and hand-walking them. These activities promote self-awareness, emotional regulation, and the development of important life skills. Horses, being highly perceptive animals, provide immediate feedback to human emotions and behaviors, allowing individuals to gain insights into their own thoughts and feelings. The collaboration between The Heart of the Matter and PCS allows participants to receive a comprehensive experience. www.hotmphx.com, www.pcsintensive.com

Kindred Spirits Care Farm, Calabasas, California 

Kindred Spirits Care Farm is a unique initiative that originated at John Wooden High School in Calabasas. This farm was established with the intention of providing assistance to troubled high school students by offering them a therapeutic environment and the opportunity to work with animals.  

The farm serves as a sanctuary for various animals including horses, cows, sheep, and chickens, creating a space where students can find solace and learn important life skills. By engaging in activities such as animal care, gardening, and environmental stewardship, students develop a sense of responsibility, empathy, and self-confidence. By integrating animal-assisted therapy into their curriculum, John Wooden High School creates a transformative experience and provides an alternative approach to a traditional education, focusing on holistic development and emotional healing. www.kindredspiritscarefarm.org

More about the benefits of spending time with animals: 

  • Animals provide unconditional love, companionship, and a non-judgmental presence, which can help reduce stress, anxiety, and feelings of loneliness or depression. 
  • Engaging in activities with therapy animals can have physical health benefits. Walking or grooming an animal can encourage physical movement, exercise, and improved motor skills. Interacting with animals has also been associated with lowered blood pressure, reduced heart rate, and improved cardiovascular health.  
  • Animals can act as social catalysts, making it easier for individuals to connect with others. Socialization can enhance communication skills, build self-confidence, and provide a sense of belonging.  
  • Animals have a unique ability to create a sense of trust and emotional connection. This bond promotes feelings of security, empathy, and unconditional acceptance, allowing individuals to open-up and explore their emotions in a safe and supportive environment. 
  • Pet therapy can provide cognitive stimulation, particularly for individuals with cognitive impairments or developmental disabilities. Engaging in activities with animals can improve attention, concentration, memory, and problem-solving skills. 
  • The presence of animals can also create a sensory-rich environment, which in turn can motivate and inspire individuals undergoing physical therapy, occupational therapy, or addiction recovery.  
  • Interacting with animals can teach children and students valuable life skills, such as responsibility, empathy, and compassion. It can also stimulate curiosity, encourage observation, and create opportunities for hands-on learning. 

Read more Health & Wellness articles on Green Living.


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