I was being half-mauled by a terrier. I was running an errand in an urban office and the dog’s owner was horrified. She apologized, explaining that her dog never did that.

In the dogs’ defense, I have a very special stink to my feet. I carry with me a cornucopia of delightful smells from several species in my barn. I smell like an exception to the rule.

Her dog was a therapy dog, she said.  I smiled and replied, “All animals are therapy animals.” But I offended her and was told her dog had a certificate. I meant no disrespect. My dog, Hero, and I were spending an evening a week visiting in a nursing home at the time.

No one denies the value of a wide variety of service animals –the results are scientifically proven. Service dogs are capable of complex, near-magical tasks. Horses in handicapped riding programs reduce handlers to goose bumps and tears routinely.

I was born with a full set of senses. The hearing in my left ear was the first to go, thanks to a series of infections. I’m lucky to have dogs, llamas, and donkeys who warn me when visitors come up the driveway. My sense of smell is limited after a childhood incident with a sheep but not having a sense of smell in the barn isn’t the worst thing. If I triangulate  llama gazes, or follow donkey ears, I see all kinds of things my eyes would miss.

Sure, I have lost some of my senses along the way but human senses are limited compared to most animals in the first place.

What about the other senses that animals improve -like a sense of confidence or safety? I don’t know a better kind of physical therapy for dealing with the loss of a loved one. Some of us find a sense of belonging with animals that we don’t find as sweet anywhere else. And animals don’t discriminate on grounds of disability, they help us all equally.

“All I pay my psychiatrist is the cost of feed and hay, and he’ll listen to me any day.” Anonymous

You have to ask yourself -hypothetically speaking- if someone who chose to  live with the population of a small zoo would seem to imply a greater need for therapy than the average person -even need a staff of therapists?

I don’t think that’s true. Maybe a large animal family is actually a sign of extreme and abundant mental health.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

(Photo: Shoes that make a good dog do bad.)

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Comment by Mary Ginn on May 13, 2011 at 1:32am
I, too, have only "survived" life's curve balls because the animals made me get out of bed and take care of them.  They are my recreation, my exercise, and my therapists (not necessarily in that order), and I can never repay them for the joy they have given me.
Comment by Marlene Thoms on May 12, 2011 at 8:56pm
Thanks for your kind thoughts Anna and Lori. Today seems to be rougher than most for some reason.My physical problems are not helping. So my Golden stays very close when I'm down and tries to cuddle me (funnily he used to be the puppy from hell). My youngish Shepherd plays naughty tricks to try and distract me.  I don't have the energy to ride Sharif today. But I still like to groom him, even though my arms hurt. He has mellowed  a lot since I got him. He is mostly nice to me now, except yesterday he couldn't resist giving me a naughty nudge while I was sitting balancing on the fence.  That's just so I appreciate properly all the times he doesn't do that sort of stuff. Equine humor perhaps. Anyway, tomorrow has to be better.
Comment by Lori Thompson on May 12, 2011 at 4:59am

Marlene,

Thanks for sharing your story. Mine is similar.  I lost my husband l0 years ago suddenly and it too was my horses, dogs and cats that kept me going.  My horses have travelled each and every step of my grief journey and thanks to them I now own & operate Inner Equine Journeys Growth & Development Center where lives change through the healing power of horses.  Keep close to your 4 legged therapists and remember to let them carry you on the difficult days.

Lori Thompson

Comment by Anna Blake on May 6, 2011 at 9:38pm
Marlene, thanks for sharing that. I honor your loss and your courage. And the good work from your 'therapists'.
Comment by Marlene Thoms on May 6, 2011 at 7:48pm
I can't imagine living without animals. They are therapy, but they are more than that, they are life. Even though I had two terrific dogs and a cat, when my husband passed away two years ago, I did some serious thinking about what it would take to help me carry on. Managing without your human life partner takes monumental physical and emotional help. I also have muscle/joint problems which seriously flared after my hubbie's death. My sons were very important, but they can't be babysitting their mom, they have lives too. Then my dad passed away in Dec. But having animals means you simply must get up in the morning, get everyone fed and watered, and exercised, and loved, and brushed. Planning how their training or environment should be set up optimally for their health and welfare gives me some goals and gets me out. For my own self outside of their needs, I had no appetite, no desires, no goals, no plans, my nerves were shot. But for quite a while I had to look after myself only because I had other lives dependent on me. Two years later, I can't say I'm totally healed but I have adjusted not too badly. I enjoy my days, and actually sleep at night, and have some appetite for life. Having my own horse for the first time in my life has been so, so healing, and has definitely changed me for the better. And we still have lots to learn about each other in the years to come.
Comment by MagsNMe on May 6, 2011 at 6:29pm
Amen.  I always feel like a better person after leaving the barn.  Or snuggling a cat.  Or just listening to my horses munch hay.  And how can you not love life after hearing the gentle nicker of a horse saying "hey Mom, how are you doing, got carrots"?  Or the insistent whinny of a young man saying "SHE'S HERE!!!!".  Heck, I feel serene having read this!

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