I grew up on my parents hobby farm. They have kept pure bred, pedigreed Dairy Goats for many many years (I think my mum got her first one when she was about 10 or 12). At one stage they ran a commercial dairy, but now just keep them for pleasure, show them occasionally and sell off the excess to other breeders. I had often heard about the use of animals in different therapies designed to help people suffering various conditions, and have now witnessed the benefits first hand.
Ever since A was a baby we have visited as often as we could, as he really enjoyed seeing all the animals. They also run a few cows and chickens and have 3 very affectionate dogs. When A was about 3 I took him and his little brother for a visit for a few days. Their “farm routine” usually involves waking up, having a coffee – well, coffee for Gran, Pa and Mummy and Milo for them – then down to do the morning milking and feeding. A is always super keen to help, and as he has gotten older and can follow simple directions, is actually helpful to mum and dad.
On this particular visit one morning he decided no he didn’t want to come down to the shed to help, he stayed on the back verandah nursing a baby goat. When the kids are born they spend the first few days living on the back verandah and sleeping in a box on the kitchen floor, before moving down to the shed with the other goats. He literally spent hours nursing that kid, who he named Chloe, after his friend at daycare.
This is A and Chloe, just kidding around!
Just about that whole day was spent nursing Chloe, calmly stroking her soft hair, examining her tiny hooves. It wasn’t just the babies either. A would go out into the paddock, sit down, cuddle up to and have an in depth conversation with the adult does, all 80 kilo’s of them, for ages.
Whenever we could see him start to get overloaded by something – the flies that inevitably inhabit a farm, especially during summer, caused him immense distress – we would send him out for a “goat fix” or a “dog fix”. Not long after he would be calm, almost serene sitting with the animals.
Now that A has started school, he and his brother have spent time at the farm on their own with Gran and Pa, while their dad and I work. We usually drive halfway and meet mum and dad to hand the boys over, as its about a 4-5 hour drive away. He is always so excited there are no tears, none of the separation anxiety that plagued us for so long, just happy faces waving out the window as they start off on the next leg of their journey.
They boys have both now been witness to many elements of farm life. They have seen calves and kids born, helped with feeding, milking and other chores, and also experienced the sadness that occurs when one of the animals passes away, or as Gran has told A, they go to “Goat Heaven”. They are very fortunate to be able to have this time with their grandparents in such a great environment. Even though some of A’s sensory issues make it difficult to do everyday things, the “animal therapy” really seems to help. It is now referred to as a “farm fix”, if they haven’t been for a while!
Perhaps “animal therapy” is something that can help not only those with sensory issues, but other neurological/behavioural differences as well. You don’t even need to own your own animal, just have access to one! Do you have a friend or family member with a super docile dog that will let your sensory challenged child hold on their lap? or can you visit an animal nursery? In our experience it has been so worthwhile.