Dogs are a man's best friend and for good reason too! In fact any pet owner would testify to how much joy their animal brings to their life. There is just something special about animals that can help people through the darkest time. More and more it seems people are turning to nature for healing and animal assisted therapy is becoming more common.
Animal assisted therapy refers to a wide variety of services using animals to help people with physical and mental health conditions. Once prevalent mainly in the USA and Australia, the UK is beginning to catch up and acknowledge the benefits of using this alternative type of therapeutic activity to support people of all ages cope with symptoms and overcome the barriers they face.
Stories abound of assistance animals which support those with physical disabilities for example Riding for the Disabled, Pets as Partners, Guide dogs, but it is the more recent research and practice of how animals can also lend huge support to children and adults with learning difficulties and mental health conditions which is gaining in credibility and support.
The bonds made between humans and animals are quick to make and often run deep; for some of us connecting to an animal gives us that something extra that human-human bonds don’t provide us with.
Animals accept us for who and what we are, listen and do not judge and are often loyal companions. Spending time with companion animals reduces blood pressure, stress and creates a space for humans to relax and regenerate.
For some it helps to process thoughts and emotions and for others it helps to understand feelings and emotions. We now commonly see assistance dogs for autistic children, emotional support animals for emergency service workers, reading dogs in schools and equine assisted therapy for veterans and others (including children) suffering from PTSD, developmental trauma and other mental health conditions.
We read books showing the remarkable bond and life-changing difference animals make to humans as our often cynical species is beginning to fully appreciate that human-animal links provide things sometimes human-human bonds just can’t provide.
As a family we have always had animals – as a child I could always say things to my pets that I could never say to humans. I have carried this with me all of my life and it was on a farm holiday when I was 12 that I knew that one day I would own a farm and have animals to make others feel better. After a short stint in the Royal Air Force, then several years working in the outdoors with youth at risk and finally a 20 year career in teaching later, I have now realised that dream.
It has been the most wonderful career path working with animals to assist families. Every day I get to meet new people and help them and I am privileged. So I would like to share the stories of some of the incredible people I have worked alongside and the memories that stay with me.
the “tough” boy in his Year 6 Leavers Show saying out loud that looking after an orphan lamb which I had taken into school to nurture had been the best days of his school days at primary school
the family who had lost their father/husband to Covid who said that being around our animals made such a difference for them in being able to cope and allowed the children to talk about their feelings of loss for the first time
the young person who witnessed and helped with lambing who shared the moment a lamb was born with me and talked about his early childhood trauma for the first time
the family who wrote to their son’s school pleading with them to continue their weekly visits to our farm as they were the only reason he would willingly go to school on the other days of the week
the parent who said that the sessions here with her severely autistic son have helped him with his sensory issues, to regulate his emotions and have reduced “meltdowns” in addition to stimulating him to use more verbal language
the lady who cried when her son with ADHD was absolutely still and calm for almost an hour when handling and communicating with our ponies in a session
the difference sessions with our pony has made to a 9 year old boy whose behaviour at school has improved as a direct result of his relationship and interaction of this special support animal
As more and more parents contact me and ask if I can help their children I not only feel honoured that they have asked me but am so inspired by the fact that they are prepared to reach out to see for themselves how animal assisted therapy can help them.
You can contact me, Jayne Haigh, via email firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 07470125121 . More details and many images of our animals and environment can be found on my glamping site website www.goxhillmeadows.co.uk along with links to Trip Advsior and Facebook to see reviews.