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Zachary's Paws for Healing at ABI Program
August 30, 2016

Courtyard becomes a barnyard to benefit patients with ABI

Two horses and a goat in a tutu walk into a hospital…

This could be the start to a bad joke, but for patients in the Aquired Brain Injury (ABI) Program at Hamilton General Hospital’s Regional Rehabilitation Centre (RRC), it was the highlight of their week.

goat at Acquired Brain Injury Program

“It brings life to us,” says Kara Thompson, the recreation therapist at the RRC who coordinated the visit.

“It gives them an opportunity to enjoy the moment and forget about why they’re here.”

Several weeks ago, Thompson reached out to Donna Jenkins, founder of Zachary’s Paws for Healing (ZPFH), a foundation that provides therapeutic pet visits for people in hospital. Thompson knew that her patients would benefit from the social interaction that animals can stimulate as they undergo therapy and rehabilitation for acquired brain injuries.

“It gives them an opportunity to enjoy the moment and forget about why they’re here,” says Thompson.

Typically, ZPFH facilitates visits between a patient and their own pet from home but Jenkins was more than happy to make an exception for the ABI Program. Along with volunteers, she has been bringing dogs to visit the RCC once a week since July.

“It’s so nice because on this unit we see patients long term,” says Jenkins. “We see their progress and how they respond to the animals week to week.”

Jenkins says that since the visits began, one patient has started to talk more. Another is now able to open his palm to feed the animals a treat.

After several weeks of dog visits, Jenkins decided to branch out and invite some less likely animals into the fold. Lynne Cree, owner of Taking Strides Equine Assisted Learning brought two of her miniature horses. Elizabeth Rous, a trainer at Hollybrook Farm brought her pet goat, Annabelle.

ponies and goat at rehab centre-11
ponies and goat at rehab centre-10
ponies and goat at rehab centre-8

They were a hit with patients, including Taralee, who took a particular liking to Raven the miniature horse. “I love seeing the animals,” she says. “It’s great.”

Patients enjoyed an afternoon of petting the animals and feeding them bits of carrot before heading back inside for a rest.

Next week, the dogs will be returning but Jenkins wouldn’t be surprised if one day soon, Trooper, Raven and Annabelle are back by popular demand.