Animal Therapy – The therapy extending beyond four walls

Animals, Mental Health

Today I want to talk about a kind of therapy that is more than sitting in a room with a trained therapist. Animal therapy. As with each day that comes I am learning more about the benefits and uses of animals in people’s daily lives and individual roads to recovery from various issues, meaning I am very keen to give others an insight into why animals are becoming increasingly popular in healing.

What is animal assisted therapy?

Definition: Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is a type of therapy that involves animals as a form of treatment. The goal of AAT is to improve a patient’s social, emotional, or cognitive functioning

Therapy animals are often seen as Dogs, which is wonderful since they assist so many people in need of a loving, helpful, forever companion. However, we are blessed to have with us so many wonderful and unique animal species who also deserve recognition for the roles they play in our lives as companions, helpers and life-long friends.

With animals in therapy, there isn’t that added pressure of worrying over causing upset to the other person with certain things have been expressed. In therapy I always find myself struggling to string a sentence together, let alone trying to get it out of my mouth. I have never liked the idea of communication in case speaking about my bad times makes the person listening feel equally as bad. But with animals it flows naturally and it feels way more comfortable due to the lack of awkwardness and the increase in calmness.

Animals bring out the best in us without special training. Just simply by being themselves.

A key factor highlighting the positive attributes as having animals as therapy is that you are under no obligation to communicate with them if you choose not to, but you are still aware that the animals are there to listen and to be the friend you need to pick you up when you’ve fallen. Even without speaking, which can be tough for many people, animals can easily pick up on high levels of stress and anxiety, which Humans struggle to detect without the physical signs and symptoms – such as crying. Animals are excellent at detecting mental signs of distress, not just physical ones. They will quickly do all in their power to alleviate that by nudging you for attention or sitting with you to prevent you from dwelling on your thoughts and feelings alone.

Talking therapies have always proven tough for me since I struggle to verbally talk about my thoughts and feelings due to judgement and fear. But with animals, there is none of that, there is no worry or fear of judgement or abandonment. Whenever I am surrounded with the Goats, my problems are no longer swimming around my mind or bothering me as much for me to feel the need to express them anyway. I don’t have the time for my thoughts to linger when I have a responsibility to care for, and play with, the Goats. 

‘Animals make all the bad things go away’.

I am one of many people worldwide who personally experiences animal therapy. I’m not talking about an assistance Dog. Many people experience animal therapy from friends with fur to friends with scales, or even spines. There is no limit in which animals can be used for animal therapy. But today, I’m talking about Goats. Goats for me have acted as a form of therapy, alongside being the best friends imaginable. Excellent listeners who give the best hugs and provide the best happy distraction, aswell as endless love and affection.

With animals I don’t have to sit and figure out how I will express myself, it just naturally happen whenever I am in their presence.

It’s time we moved on from using Goats for meat and dairy and instead focused on their values, providing them with the happiness, love and freedom they deserve. Goats are the honorable, trustworthy and kind hearted companions we all need in our lives.

My wonderful friend Lainey Morse the founder of Goat Yoga and my fellow crazy goat lady is one of many people using animal therapy as a means of adding happiness into other’s lives. Lainey has experienced the healing properties her Goats possess, meaning it has proven to be very beneficial in her recovery from mental illnesses. Goats entered Lainey’s life and have aided her, not only mentally, but also in her heart and soul too as she continues to inspire many (myself included) with her continued bravery and strength each day. Additionally, Lainey’s yoga classes have grown to be a worldwide phenomenon which were created with the idea of Goat Therapy and compassion. Though it doesn’t cure people’s issues, it aims to give people a happy/calming distraction from their every day issues, worries and stress. And, unsurprisingly, people LOVE IT! Because it’s impossible not to be filled with joy and contentment when surrounded with such cheerful and jolly Goats!

To gain an insight into Goat Yoga in a greater depth, please visit: http://www.goatyoga.net.

There are lots of amazing properties about Goats that many people have yet to recognise. Goats have gentle souls, they are highly intelligent animals, cheeky and inquisitive, sharing many known characteristics and personality traits with Dogs, a “man’s best friend”. Meaning they are very easy to bond with and are always down for cuddles and affection, an instant mood booster and anxiety reliever.

I feel that with Goats, I am never alone. Being welcomed with their presence is always a huge heart warmer and when being around them it’s as if my problems have magically vanished, appearing vacant and less heavy in my head. As soon as I see a Goat, that is it! I am quickly drawn to them and fail to take my eyes off their playful behaviours. Goats bring out the best in me and enable me to temporarily forget about the other issues in my life, a key property in the art of therapy. Providing me with senses of worth and importance, common factors that are easily forgotten during times of mental distress. My darkest thoughts quickly begin to focus on the wonderful animals I am surrounded with, seeing them getting on with their daily lives without a care or fuss in The World proves to me that a life without worry is possible.

Our animal friends teach us many life lessons that I highly value and treasure close to my heart. I am confident that with the continued help of my animal friends, anything is possible, and I will continue on my journey towards happiness and self-love to aid me in my career pathway of saving animals in the future, just like my inspiration Lainey Morse.

In the photos below, you will view animal therapy occurring with the presence of Goats. Judging from my expression in each individual image, I am feeling very happy and content with the help of my four-legged friends. 

Would you look at these images and see somebody suffering with complex mental health illnesses? Goats don’t only mask my feelings on the outside, but also on the inside too.

 

 

My life lessons from animals – Pawprints to recovery

Mental Health

If we as Humans treated animals the way we treated ourselves, we would be in serious trouble for animal cruelty and neglect. An eye opener in the fact that we can all learn to practice self care and kindness towards ourselves. Self care isn’t selfish. Lets take a leaf from an animals’ book.

Treat yourself how you would treat an animal – with love, care and respect.

My current struggles with Anorexia Nervosa are a daily struggle but I am thankful since it has helped to widen my eyes into the life lessons we can learn from animals, ranging from the importance of happiness and self care amongst other things that we can all learn to apply to ourselves and our difficulties. Being a passionate animal lover and enthusiast from a very young age has been a blessing and I am privileged to say that animals own a huge quantity (if not all) of my heart. I have learned more from animals than I have ever learned in Therapy, because after-all, “the best therapist has fur and four legs.” My passion for animals has encouraged me to keep fighting and has allowed me to have a constant reminder of my purpose in life. Most importantly, it has also given me reasons as to how and why I must achieve this.

Animals come in all shapes and sizes, yet we love them all the same. We wouldn’t love a Dog any less for being bigger than a different breed. We wouldn’t sit and criticise a Cow over their size or their weight, nor would we compare them to a Mouse. Instead we appreciate them for their individual characteristics and their loving personalities. Heck, we love animals carrying that extra bit of weight because they are cuddly and certainly nothing negative in our eyes.

My new rule in life – If I can’t fight for myself, I MUST fight for the animals in need of my love, friendship and compassion. Being faced with Anorexia includes me struggling to find the motivation to do things for myself, but keeping the animals in mind has helped me massively (and continues to do so!)

I have recently given myself the opportunity to view my thoughts and feelings in a different perspective, a brighter light. I have experienced years of the same, foggy mindset and I have begun to see a little bit of light peeping through the darkness. Though I cannot say my mindset has magically shifted, I can confidently say that I am feeling an ounce of positivity that has remained vacant for such a long period of time. Comparing my struggles to animals is something I recommend everybody with mental illnesses has a shot at. I find it comforting to eat alongside my Cat and my Rabbit whilst at home and it aids as a massive anxiety reliever, especially since I struggle massively eating with my family and friends. It really gives a wonderful, realistic insight into the importance and benefits of different things. I discovered that I am feeding my pets breakfast whilst finding the motivation through lots of tears to finish mine. Feeding animals is my norm, so perhaps someday feeding myself will be the norm too.

Evidently, I would never starve an animal or deprive them or the essentials they need, so why should I engage in these behaviours?

Examples:

1) When I fail to understand and priorotise eating and it’s importance, I am quick to remember how much animals love and enjoy food. Emphasising the fact that they aren’t ones to give a thought to calories or guilt. They eat to provide them with the energy they need to fulfill their energetic lives and to add to their charming personalities. My admiration for Goats has assisted me in many ways, including finding the importance of food.

2) When I am feeling ‘too big and too fat’ and uncomfortable in my body, I divert my thoughts to Elephants. Elephants are the heaviest Mammal in The World, yet I have never seen one dieting or reducing their calories. Why? Because it is unimportant and it certainly won’t bring them as much happiness as browsing and wandering around with their herd will.

3) If an animal was underweight or refusing to eat, it would raise concerns in us and would result in an immediate trip to the Vets to resolve the underlying issue. Why shouldn’t this be the same with us Humans? Animals are living proof and a constant reminder of how we must strive for health and happiness as opposed to giving into our illnesses.

4) Do Cheetahs sit and dwell on the fact that they may well have consumed more calories than another animal? No. Because they are the World’s fastest land mammal which wouldn’t be possible without eating and that remains the most important factor, not the food they have consumed.

Above I have mentioned just a few examples of how animals continue to help me through each day and I am confident that with each day I will grow in strength and knowledge as I continue in my recovery journey towards happiness and self-love and to thrive as an individual. I believe that if we all take into account animals and the way they treat themselves, we will receive nothing but benefits from it in return. Animals help me in so many positive ways which I am forever thankful for and someday I am going to repay them by giving them the lives filled with freedom they deserve.

‘Be like a Giraffe and stand tall’

Blackpool Zoo – Zoo keeper for a day (2017).

Animals, Keeper for a day, Work experience/volunteering

On the 19th November, 2017, I was lucky enough to have the wonderful experience of being a Zookeeper for the day at Blackpool Zoo alongside my beautiful cousin, Savannah. I would firstly like to point out that the experience was the most enjoyable, informative and well organised experience I have endured. And one I’d, wholeheartedly, recommend to everybody! Additionally, I would like to take the opportunity to thank Blackpool Zoo and their incredible Zookeepers for making the day one I’ll never forget. And, of course, the animals for making my day unforgettable and a day I’ll forever treasure close to my heart.

I received this opportunity as a Christmas present in 2016 and had eagerly waited all year for the day to arrive. I had wanted to do this for a very long time, but the waiting lists had always been lengthy, so you can imagine how excited I would’ve been. I was counting down the months, the weeks, the days and then I was soon to be counting down the hours and then the minutes.

The day approached. I had my alarm set for 6am – hours before we were expected to arrive to the Zoo – and I quickly got dressed into my zoo gear. Work boots, waterproof pants, a water proof coat and lots of warm thermals to wear underneath. I could barely sit still. We drove the 45 minute journey to the Zoo (Me, my mum, my auntie and my cousin) and sat excitedly waiting for the time to come around.

We then headed into the Zoo’s reception area where we were greeted by a lovely receptionist who handed us high visibility jackets to wear, stating ‘Zookeeper for a day’ on the back. Admittedly, I felt very special whilst wearing the jacket and I couldn’t wait to get started with, what was set to be, the best day of my life. We sat in the reception area for a short duration of time, awaiting our next step on our big day!

Lauren the Zookeeper turned up and politely introduced herself and we were taken along to the old Elephant enclosure. Blackpool Zoo have recently developed a new project, named ‘Project Elephant’ which is the new enclosure for Kate and her new Elephant friends. So before heading over to that, we were taken to her previous enclosure to be given some (very interesting) information about the Zoo’s history, which included the history of the Elephant enclosure. And Kate! It’s safe to say, Kate has been through one heck of a journey and she certainly is a credit to Lauren and the rest of the Zookeepers. It’s very heartwarming to hear how Zoos have improved in today’s modern day society, where we have a better understanding and knowledge of Zoos and the requirements of different animal species. This became evidently clear to us when we were taken around Kate’s new house! (Project Elephant)

The new house was INCREDIBLE! And it appeared to be much better suited to cater for Kate and her needs. I was lucky enough to have a VIP tour of it. It’s much larger and more natural looking. There are a range of fixtures and fittings suited to Elephant life. Including tree trunks that can get moved around the enclosure, to represent an Elephant’s natural environment and to act as enrichment. There is now a swimming pool in the outdoor area for Kate to enter, as and when wanted, and there were hay nets suspended into the air that were put onto a timer. Ready to be suspended down to the Elephants during random times throughout the day and night. Again, this highlights the improvements in enrichment and knowledge from Zoo staff.

Project Elephant ‘Base Camp’ is now open to the public at Blackpool Zoo, with an incredible enclosure and 3 gorgeous Elephants to visit.

It’s a vital requirement of Zoos to provide enrichment for the animals, in order to prevent them from boredom and stress. It’s also part of  The Five Freedoms. (Animal Welfare Act, 2006). Also, enrichment serves a purpose of keeping the animals physically and mentally stimulated. A requirement in which Blackpool Zoo carry out exceedingly well.

  1. Freedom from discomfort
  2. Freedom from fear and distress
  3. Freedom from hunger and thirst
  4. Freedom to exhibit natural behaviours
  5. Freedom from pain, injury and disease

We then had the chance to feed a variety of different, gorgeous, animals. Some of which included: The Giraffes, Penguins, Anteaters, Pelicans, Lemurs and Tortoises. We also had the chance to meet the Tapirs (Who I immediately fell in love with) and the Aardvarks.

After we had our VIP tour of Kate’s new enclosure, we were then greeted by another Zookeeper who took us to carry out some more of our daily tasks. We headed to the Tortoise enclosure and were, happily, faced with Giant Tortoises. Including Darwin – The Zoo’s oldest resident. We were given a selection of Vegetables to feed to Tortoises, it was very fun watching them chomp away. Though, we had to be very careful to mind we didn’t get stood on. The Tortoises were friendly, but giant. Friendly giants. Plus, we didn’t want any broken feet…

Feeding the Penguins involved filling their fish with essential vitamins and mineral tablets. We had to hold open the Fish’s fin and then place the two tablets inside. We then headed out to the Penguin pool and went on to feed the Fish, which the Penguins were clearly very excited for as they gathered around the front of the pool. We then listened to the Penguin talk which was informative and presented very well. A task I found, near, impossible was being unable to stroke one of the Penguins (due to the zoo choosing to NOT having him having any human contact). The zookeeper explained how this particular Penguin was the only one to have not been touched by Humans, even the keepers, as they wanted him to be a more ‘natural’ Penguin. Which is fantastic (not very easily done though, he was adorable!) 

I’m very eager to talk about the highlight of my day (though, it was all fantastic) I absolutely adored meeting the Tapirs. I’ve always had an interest in them, but I can happily say that my love for them has increased. Spending time with the Tapirs was incredible and it has, in fact, inspired me to work with them in my future animal care career. There are two Tapirs at Blackpool Zoo, one was more friendly and the other was quite timid and wary. I got to spend lots of time tickling and cuddling the Tapir (we even had some kisses) and he was slowly closing his eyes as we continued to tickle him in his favourite spot. This experience allowed me to engage with Tapirs for the first time, and also enabled me to see what magnificent mammals they are.

Another highlight of my day…(Okay, they’re all highlights) was feeding the Giraffes. Giraffes are my favourite animal, including Goats of course, so having the opportunity to get so close to them (for the second time) was definitely an experience to remember. Not many people can say they’ve been face to face with the World’s tallest Mammal! We fed the Giraffes with Acacia leaves, which are similar to their natural diet, and they highly enjoyed them. I loved seeing their large tongues sticking out ready to grab the leaves. I also loved how friendly and gentle they were, considering their size. Giraffes have charming personalities and never fail to amaze me with how majestic they are.

Now, lets talk about the Lemurs. My goodness, what a life-changing opportunity! I wanted to take my Lemur friend home, he wouldn’t leave my shoulder and I felt very accepted within the ‘Lemur community’ I had just headed into. We headed into the Lemur enclosure after being welcomed by the Zookeeper and were given some information about them. Stepping into the enclosure was an experience in itself, I suddenly felt a little weight on my shoulder and was faced to see a gorgeous Lemur waiting for his grapes right beside my head. It was epic! We were handed grapes and the Lemurs were quick, and eager, to approach us for their snack. It was adorable seeing them taking hold of the grapes and taking bites out of them *insert Lemur chewing noise here*

The Lemurs concluded the day, and what a day it was! We then headed back to the Reception area to hand in our jackets and to receive a goody bag, containing a range of small gifts and our very own completion certificate.

This was an experience I’ll never forget, certainly something I aim to take part in again. It has provided me with a real glimpse into Zoo life and what is typically involved in a Zookeepers’ day – essential as I strive for a career within the animal care industry.

Lots of love,

Laur xx