THERAPEUTIC
SCHOOL

More than Meets the Animal Eye

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October 18, 2013

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A warm welcome to Bella, a miniature Jersey heifer that arrived from Pennsylvania this past September. Bella was born on July 4, 2012 and at 4 feet high, will only get a little bigger than she is now. Getting used to a new place is never easy and a first friend can be a welcome relief. Bella is making herself at home but Nick, a Green Chimneys resident, has been especially welcoming, undoubtedly making her transition even easier. Nick’s willingness to embrace new animals is not just sweet; it’s a sign of great progress.

According to his social worker Eliza, Nick can be cautious - sometimes quite guarded - even with her. But their sessions always meant one thing: a trip to the horse barn to visit his favorite horse, Lavar Ropa. When it became evident that health issues would make it necessary for the horse to move to another farm, Eliza began helping Nick prepare for the loss of his favorite animal. Loss is challenging for anyone and for children with special needs, even a hint of change can cause an emotional set back. Nick struggled to accept the horse’s departure and Eliza made several attempts to introduce Nick to other horses in the hope he would find a similar connection but his attachment remained.

One day, the unexpected happened: Nick was having a tough time and sought out Eliza. The horse barn was closed so they had no choice but to explore the teaching barn. There Nick was drawn to a sheep standing calmly in its stall; he began to pet and speak to it soothingly, eventually expressing some difficult feelings he had been holding in. He opened up to the sheep, and to his social worker, more than he ever had before.

Nick and Eliza now take advantage of the entire farm during sessions and Nick shows little to no hesitation to interact with a new animal. They happened to visit the barn in Bella’s very first week and he immediately gravitated to her, declaring “This might be my new favorite animal.” Nick has developed a special relationship with Bella but remains aware of her cues – as with all the animals – to make sure he interacts safely and his attention is welcome.

Visiting the farm animals has been a great step for Nick. He’s learned that getting to know an animal, and building any relationship, takes time but most especially, trust. It’s through such animal connections and support from expert staff that children like Nick are able to feel safe, heal emotionally and build the skills and confidence needed for successful everyday interactions with classmates, teachers and beyond.

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