Animal therapy is known to make a huge impact on a child’s emotional, social or cognitive functioning. It helps to motivate and provides educational opportunities for the children as they learn to care for the many animals we have in the petting zoo. The children take part in a weekly therapy session inside the petting zoo and can make visits also during the week if they want to. Our petting zoo currently includes the many animals and birds. The goats and birds live outside in separate pens that include shaded areas, play and climbing toys and receptacles for ample fresh water and food. The rabbits and ferrets and other small animals are cared for inside our animal house in their own clean pens and dens and benefit from environment – appropriate and controlled heating and cooling. We also have snakes and an iguana and many other species that the children care for.
At first the child is introduced to a gentle, non-judgemental animal and this is hugely beneficial as the child can feel the calmness and acceptance of the animal. Their inhibitions, fears and anxieties diminish greatly, allowing for a much more open therapeutic environment. This helps the child to be able to say more to the therapist about prior trauma, with the ultimate goal that the child will be able to explore their own experiences and come to understand that they deserve love, protection, patience , caring and nurturing, just as the animals do.
The children will move on then to hands-on care for the animals, so they can develop their own ‘care-giving’ skills and have a model they can build as they grow. For children who have grown up in a dysfunctional family, this is particularly important as they may need to learn new behaviors that others take for granted.
The third aim of this vital program is based on the educational groups we run where the children learn about the animals and their characteristics – their habitat, biology, behavior, nutrition, history and relationships with humans. For many this will be their first opportunity to interact with animals and to learn about them.
The final purpose of the petting zoo is that it is just a wonderful, fun place for the children to be! The children can just enjoy spending time there enjoying the animals in an unstructured way that has a value all of its own. Children cannot grow and thrive without fun and laughter and the antics of the animals gives great joy to all who visit the petting zoo.
Netanel (not his real name) is a 14 year old boy living at Emunah Afula. While very sweet in nature, Netanel’s severe learning and emotional difficulties sometimes cause him to become extremely frustrated. When this happens he lashes out. His challenging behavior was severe, even for our home, at least that was, until he came to the petting zoo. There Netanel soon bonded with someone who would help him find inner calm when the world around him was too difficult to cope with. This someone was Charlie – our African parrot! Netanel and Charlie have forged a unique and strong bond. Netanel cares for him, cleaning his cage, talking to him and feeding him. The change in Netanel’s personality is remarkable. He has a sense of purpose now and can communicate his frustrations to Charlie, who is, like most parrots, an excellent listener. The therapy he receives at the petting zoo makes him able to help him cope better in life and his daily visits to see Charlie are a pleasure for everyone involved.
The project cost to run the Petting Zoo and provide therapy for the children in Emunah Afula is NIS175,000 per annum. This includes the cost of a specialist therapist trained in animal therapy, food and hay for the animals, maintenance of enclosures, veterinary costs, salary of a ‘zoo-keeper’ and costs of new animals.
SHARING IS CARING