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Photos by Shane Wynn
Sometimes you just need to smile. A smile can come from anything, but it can make your day so much better when it suddenly descends upon you. For residents and family members at the Emeritus assisted living facility in Stow, faces stretched into tentative smiles and laughter trickled out from the most unexpected source: Two Madagascar hissing cockroaches, a massive Durmeril's ground boa and a furry little kinkajou.
Don’t worry, these animals aren’t just roaming around Stow. They are a part of the community program put on by the Akron Zoo’s ZooMobile. The ZooMobile travels all over Northeast Ohio, entertaining and educating everyone from small children to senior citizens. Todd Boerner is one of the presenters of the program and has been with the zoo since 2004. “I think you have to entertain and as you entertain, it educates. It’s not just about preaching, it’s about having them have fun,” says Boerner.
The programs that the ZooMobile takes out feature all different animals. “We have chinchillas, guinea pigs, box turtles and when we do that everyone asks, why do you have animals like that? Those types of animals [are the ones] we take to preschools, they’re used to those type of animals, they relate to that,” says Boerner. He says that people don’t realize that guinea pigs, for example, are actually from South America. With each program, he is able to not only show off the animals, but teach audiences where they come from and what they add to the environment. For the older audiences he can bring more exotic animals, like the set from the rainforest he brought to Emeritus.
Boerner brought a pair of hissing cockroaches, an endangered Durmeril's boa and a kinkajou to visit the gathered seniors. Some of the seniors at Emeritus certainly weren’t shy about letting Boerner know what they thought about the animals. This was especially true with the cockroaches. “If it jumps on me, I’ll scream!” giggled one woman when he brought the cockroaches over. Several people over, another woman just shrank back in her chair and told him “sure yeah, move along now.” As Boerner took first the cockroaches, then the snake and kinkajou around to the gathered seniors, laughter rang through the room.
Cockroaches may not seem like the greatest demonstration animal, however after he explained that they serve a purpose as the garbage men of the rainforest, a collective “ohh” of acknowledgement escaped from the seniors. This opened them up to ask questions and stroke each animal.
Betty Nellis, a resident at Emeritus, was smiling broadly through the entirety of the program despite her preconceived thoughts of it. “I thought it was very interesting because I really had not planned on enjoying it,” says Nellis. For her it is something different to do and an enjoyable break in the day. “We are here and most of us don’t have transportation to go and see these things, so for [the ZooMobile] to bring these programs to us is great.”
The Doggie Brigade
Akron Children’s Hospital
An 11-year-old boy named Andrew sits gingerly in a chair, an iv tethering him to the medications that are restoring his body. Next to him is Hannah, a 9-year-old beagle mix. The two look at each other for a few moments, sizing the other up, then Andrew extends a hand and begins to gently pet Hannah’s head. A smile stretches across his face.
Andrew Holt had just had his appendix removed and was missing his two dogs at home in Newcastle, Pa., when Hannah and her owner Cinda Klatil visited him at Akron Children’s Hospital. Klatil and Hannah are a part of Akron Children’s Doggie Brigade.
The Doggie Brigade is comprised of about 75 members and includes Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Bernese Mountain dogs, Newfoundlands, Bichon Frise, Poodles and many other mixes. The program started in 1991 and when it first visited the floors, there were just nine dogs.
All dogs are tested before beginning their visits to children within the hospital. “We do testing through Pet Partners. We [test] here and it’s a high complexity test that we have to pass in order to visit with the kids. It’s basic obedience plus behavioral. They test them around iv poles, wheelchairs, six people all petting them at the same time — just about any situation they could run into at the hospital,” says Klatil.
Klatil has been volunteering with the Doggie Brigade for the last eight years and Hannah is her second dog to be involved with the program. She found Hannah on Craigslist, brought her home and found that she had the right temperament for therapy work. “You can teach obedience to a dog that has the right personality, but you can’t train calm,” says Klatil.
And Hannah definitely is calm. When walking around the hospital halls, visiting children who feel terrible, she adapts to the needs of each child. When placed in bed with a sleepy little girl, Hannah curled up against her side and simply settled in with her. “They can read the kids. They know who needs what,” says Klatil. Hannah’s intuition allows her to provide each child with what they most need at the moment of her visit. Whether they need someone to snuggle, someone to stroke, or a singing companion, she is there for them.
Volunteering with the Doggie Brigade is a major commitment. Cynthia Duncan, the Volunteer Services Advisor of the Doggie Brigade says that volunteers must complete 26 visits a year, including two special events. However before they get to that point, they must qualify for the program. “The first process is getting ready for the screening, which includes going through
Pet Partners, taking an online course and passing the test,” says Duncan. Once the test is passed, an appointment is scheduled to evaluate both the canine and human parts of the team. “Once a Volunteer, they will be mentored by our seasoned Doggie Brigade teams, which gets them ready for their actual visits to the floor. After all of that is complete, they will be put on the schedule for visits.”
It is a major commitment for volunteers, but for Klatil and Hannah it’s worth it. “When she sees me put on my [volunteer] shirt at home, she starts crying. Then she’s at the door sitting pretty. She knows it’s time to go.”
Medina Creative Therapy Ranch
Medina Creative Living
Horses are beautiful, powerful animals that often invoke the feeling of freedom. Eight horses from various backgrounds help provide that feeling of freedom to members of the community with disabilities at the Medina Creative Therapy Ranch.
Medina Creative Living has been providing housing and vocational programs for disabled individuals for the past 24 years. Originally started by a group of parents concerned about the oppurtunites their disabled children might have in the future, Medina Creative Living now has 54 housing units, serves over 800 people and has five different vocational programs.
About two years ago, Dianne DePasquale-Hagerty, the CEO, and Sharon Biggins, the director of the therapy ranch, began the therapy program. It began with the land. The 25-acre property that the ranch sits on is leased to the program by the Medina County Parks District. “Without their partnership, we wouldn’t be as fortunate as we are,” says Biggins. “Dianne is an amazing grant writer and we have a beautiful facility because of that, but the Parks District leasing that land to us was huge.” In a twist of fate, and unknown at the time to DePasquale-Hagerty, Biggins had originally gotten her degree in Equine Science, or the production and management of horses. “We both took that as a sign,” says Biggins.
The property includes an indoor arena, a therapy trail and soon, a new outdoor arena. Along with the eight horses, there are goats, cats and a friendly fish tank. Each animal on the property works to instill a calm for riders. They can gaze into the fish tank while waiting their turn, stroke a fluffy cat or check out the goats and rabbits in the stable.
For both Biggins and DePasquale-Hagerty, the desire to have a therapy ranch was personal. Biggins has a 24-year-old son who is disabled. “One of the challenges as a parent of a person with disabilities is watching your child be treated differently, in every aspect of their life,” says Biggins. DePasquale-Hagerty also has a personal tie, with a brother disabled from a car accident and a nephew with autism.
Another element of the ranch is that it is a part of the Media Creative Living vocational programs and provides work experience for disabled individuals. They tenderly groom the horses, clean the stalls and learn tasks that translate well in the workforce.
There are many success stories that have come out of the ranch in the last two years as over 200 people have went through the program. “We have people who can’t control their body, but suddenly have this freedom, this newfound freedom that they can control a horse,” says Biggins.
Dogs on Campus Pet Therapy Program
Kent State University
Stress does not discriminate. It doesn’t care if you are in perfect health or suffering from a terrible disease, incredibly busy or living at a leisurely pace. No matter what, stress seems to touch us all at one point or another.
Dr. Kathleen Adamle, a tenured faculty member at Kent State University, saw students suffering from stress on campus and decided to focus her research on helping them. “I decided back in 2003, 2004 that I would bring the concept of pet therapy to a college campus. Usually pet therapy is in a hospital or nursing home or in trauma centers, but there had not been a pet therapy team in a college or university setting ever. So I brought this here as my research and it was the first established pet therapy program in the nation,” says Adamle.
Adamle teaches in the graduate programs at Kent State University’s College of Nursing and says that she has been involved with therapy for the last 10 to 15 years. She has also been a master trainer of canines for about 25 years.
The program got off the ground in 2005 and has been bringing wagging tails to campus ever since. As with many projects, it started small. “When we started out, I think there were only five of us in 2004. We got funded and ran a pilot project.” The pilot project only included first semester freshmen. Once her research was published, Adamle says she was contacted many times over by other universities that wanted to start similar programs. She owns the government trademark for the program, however she told others that if they wanted to open an alternate site, they were welcome to join her. 10 years later the program has even gone overseas, says Adamle.
Currently the Dogs on Campus Pet Therapy Program sees many students on campus each semester. There are 22 dogs on the team and all participants in the program are community volunteers not associated with the university.
There are stringent rules for the program. All dogs must be tested and certified. “We have rules for the resident halls, we have rules for the classes, we send out all kinds of communications before we make a visit so that everything is very safe and everyone will feel very comfortable having animals in their buildings,” says Adamle. Another rule that Adamle established with the university was that no dog would be on campus that wasn’t a part of her program, which means that they are certified and insured.
During finals, students can relieve some of the stress by visiting with the dogs in the library. Adamle says that students absolutely love the program and find the dogs comforting. “We’ve had a couple of incidences on campus where there’s been an accident or a student has accidently passed away or was unfortunately killed in a car accident and the first things that the students ask for is for me to bring the dogs in.”
The stresses that accompany everyday life can be overwhelming. However with a furry friend to pet, that stress can reside. “Students who are well, or not sick in anyway also have stress. The point of this program was to bring the therapy aspect of the pets to a well population because they too have stress, not only sick people,” says Adalme.
Bridges Day Program
When you think of therapeutic animals to be around, the mind probably doesn’t go straight to chickens. However at Ardmore’s Bridges Day Program in Tallmadge, the chickens have worked wonders.
“ Our participants really learned how to interact in a different way with them. When the weather’s nice, the individuals will go for a walk around our building and will go back to the chicken coop. They will stand back there and watch them, laugh, see what they’re doing and talk to each other. They’re socially interacting and it just makes everybody laugh and feel at ease,” says Brittany Kunda, the vocational coordinator and job developer for the Bridges Day Program.
The Bridges Day Program works with individuals with disabilities from all over Summit County, including those living in their parent company, Ardmore’s, 13 group homes.
Kunda says that the chickens aren’t solely used for therapy. They are also part of a vocational program. There are two individuals who are employed by the program, one caring for the chicken coop on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, while the other works Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. They also care for a greenhouse on the property.
The idea for the chickens originated when Kunda and her boss, Laura Gerlich, were discussing the concept of self-sustainability. A mutual friend suggested chickens as both therapeutic and a source of fresh eggs. From there, Kunda and Gerlich got approval from Ardmore, found the chickens and brought them to their new home. “We decided to go ahead and get enough [chicks] so that we would have enough eggs to be able to eventually provide fresh eggs to each of our 13 group homes in Summit County. We then decided too it would be a good opportunity to start to teach individuals different job skills. Not just microfarming tasks, but your basics of interacting with your supervisor, interacting with coworkers, following directions, reporting to your supervisor, things like that as well,” says Kunda.
The participants of the Bridges Program have been enthusiastic about their feathered friends. They voted in favor of the chickens before Kunda and Gerlich finalized their plans. “The participants at Bridges, it was amazing to see how interested they were in chickens and learning about them,” says Kunda.
With their calming clucking, Kunda says that the chickens are mesmerizing. “Even if I’ve had a rough day, I go out and just stand there and watch them,” she says with a chuckle. For the participants of the program, the chickens definitely add to their day. “They’re nice chickens and they’re jolly and happy! They make me feel that way too,” says a 77-year-old participant.