December 31, 2001
Pet therapy comes to Children's Country Home
by Jeanette Knutson
"A lot of the community have a heart for the work we're doing," said Arinna Moon, executive director of Woodinville's Children's Country Home, a nonprofit, pediatric group home, serving children with special health needs.
But there are probably some in the community who haven't even heard of the home away from home for children who require serious medical attention.
This holiday season the Country Home, tucked away in one of Woodinville's picturesque wooded neighborhoods, has seven residents ranging in age from 8 months to 17 years.
Each is medically fragile. Some are on respirators. Some are nonverbal. Many have fairly severe neurological problems.
Online literature states, "The (home) strives to provide the highest quality of care in an environment that does not limit the possibilities for children."
This year the home found a way to broaden its young residents' world. It found a way to expose the children to things they would not normally be able to enjoy.
Less than a week before Christmas, Children's Country Home collaborated with another Woodinville nonprofit agency, Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center, to provide animal therapy for the seven home residents.
"Research has shown," said Moon, "that children who are ill, who are disabled, who have mental health issues, more easily connect with animals. The animals give unconditional love. They're warm and cuddly. The children make a connection on a whole new level with animals, when they can't with humans."
So the pet-therapy endeavor, said Moon, was meant to pique the sensory awareness of the children and to allow them to make that unique emotional connection.
"The children at Country Home," said Jenny Nell, program director for Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center, "are too sick to visit our riding center, so we brought Little Bit to them."
And with splendid results.
It was a dry Dec. 20, early in the afternoon, when Courtney Modesitt escorted her Delta Society service dog Eli into the Woodinville home. The even-tempered, well-trained brown and white Border collie mix spent about an hour in the house. He visited with each child individually, licking fingers and faces, eliciting wiggles and giggles. As some children lay on soft bean bags in the living room and others lay in hospital beds in cheerfully decorated bedrooms, Eli made the rounds, not unlike the way a chaplain would, ministering to the tiny souls of his congregation. Eli allowed the children to pet him, to help brush him, to hug and to kiss him. And as they did, each child expressed joy and delight in their own way, by reaching out, by increased alertness, by laughter, by turning toward the animal.
Then Lori Shepp, farm manager for Star Valley Miniatures in Redmond, lead in Spike, a 28-inch high, chestnut and white, 7-month-old Pinto miniature horse. Joining the procession were Nell and Kathy Alm, executive director of Little Bit.
"These miniature horses are easily trained and super-friendly," said Nell, "and baby horses don't have the same kind of dander older horses have. Obviously, we have to be concerned about allergens, with so many of the children on respirators."
Spike, like Eli, had a real intuitive sense about what the children needed. He lay his head on the tummy of one child, his head on the lap of another. He gave little licks on tiny faces. He blew lightly on the face of one little boy, fogging up his glasses. When one child latched on to Spike's forelock, Spike put his head down and patiently waited until the child released him.
"It was definitely a cute quotient of 10," said Nell. "You could tell it meant so much to them. I didn't even want to leave."
"It was absolutely fabulous," said Moon. "Little Bit brought a miniature horse in year ago. It was such a huge success, we wanted to repeat it. And this year we added the dog."
In fact, Children's Country Home has put together program guidelines to incorporate pet therapy into each child's plan of care on an on-going basis.
"These children cannot fully interact with the world," said Moon, "but to see the response kids have to these animals is so profound, so beneficial, so wonderful. Each of our children needs some kind of healing, and it's remarkable that the presence of dogs and horses can foster this."
For more information about Children's Country Home, call (425) 806-0704 or access www.childrenscountryhome.org. To learn more about Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center, call (425) 882-1554, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or access www.littlebit.org.