Friday, October 30, 2015

Therapy Goat (in training)

As mature and “old soul” as she is, Katherine still has bouts of typical teenage angst.  Today was the perfect example.  She texted me from school that she wanted to come home early because she had a headache from crying all morning.  Um, no.  “Tough it out,” I responded.   
When she got home, she started crying again - on her way to get her flu shot, so I didn’t take it too seriously.
Teenage Angst
First I had to rule out if anything happened at school: feeling sick? bad test? boring teacher? boy trouble? argument with BFF? bad lunch options? Nothing out of the ordinary.  
“Everything is just so boring and it’ll never get better.”  Yup.  Same old same old.  I guarantee teenagers said the the exact same thing during the paleolithic era.
So, next step: I asked her about what was good in her life: GOATS.  No surprise there.  Goats make me happy, too.  I would even venture to say that goats make EVERYONE happy. 
Why is that? Pygmy goats are cute, funny, friendly, outgoing, manageable, personable, quirky, curious. The perfect therapy animal!
Gigi the Therapy Goat

I did some online research.  There are a few examples, but not many.  Meet Gigi.  As of November 2012, she was a black and white miniature silky goat who weighed in at 20 pounds and visited a senior living center in Lincoln, Nebraska, three days a week.  
Her mere presence helped the residents relax, lowering their blood pressure and anxiety levels.  With a body temperature of 103, she was also a great lap warmer.  When the article was published, Gigi was in the process of being certified by “an animal-assisted therapy organization.”
Next, meet George Merrywether, who is a wether (hahaha, get it?). I found him on  Their webpage has a separate tab for “Animal Assisted Therapy Goats.”  [As an aside, I would like to complement them on their photography, which is drop dead gorgeous!]
 clicked on George because he was the cutest.  Highly scientific selection process going on here.  Anyway, here’s what popped up:
George Merrywether
Lucky me, he’s “in stock” so I added him to my “cart.”  (It’s an online goat cart!! hahaha).  E-commerce is a beautiful thing.  The “add to cart” button was a little slow, but eventually he showed up – virtually, of course—in my cart.  I had the option to use Paypal or a credit card to purchase my fella’.  But I already have too many goats, so I passed. 
My point here is that this breeder in Southern California has recognized the potential of goats as therapy animals and hand raises certain animals with particularly well-suited temperaments.
Rapid City Council
In some communities, however, goats are not allowed to be therapy animals.  July 2015, the Rapid City Council rejected the appeal of a local couple to keep pygmy goats in their backyard (within city limits) for use as therapy goats to treat the wife’s bipolar disorder.  Apparently, the goats were the only thing that kept her “calm” and “sane.” 

[BTW, that is not a pygmy goat and I have no idea what they did to its ears. Just sayin’.]

But rules are rules, and Rapid City zoning regulations do not allow livestock to be housed in  city limits.  That doesn’t diminish the goat’s effectiveness as a therapy animal, though.
Then there’s Seattle: “Top Five Ridiculous Service Animals That Would Be Restricted Under Pending Washington Bill” (Curtis Cartier, 3/9/11).  Goats are #1, followed by iguanas, pigs, birds, and monkeys.  The article mentioned, but did not discuss, miniature horses and snakes. Um, they think goats are weirder than snakes?
Seattle Weekly
His determination was based on this low-resolution photograph of a woman walking with her goat in Walmart.  The writer thought that the goat looked disabled (why? She looks A-OK to me).  He went on to generalize goats as “stupid,” doing nothing more than making noise and eating shirt sleeves.

Obviously this Curtis Cartier person has never been around a Pygmy Goat.  Sure, they might nibble on your shirt or your hair, but certainly would not ingest it.  Enough of that dummy.
My favorite is the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in New York. Jennie Brown, a cancer survivor, founded this organization in 2004 to rescue, rehabilitate, and house neglected and abused farm animals.  
She brings people to the farm to “frolic with goats in a large open pasture, sit down with a pig who wants nothing more than a belly rub, cuddle with chickens who seek out your attention or get nuzzled by some friendly sheep!” (and learn about the “devastating effects of modern-day agribusiness on the animals, the environment and human health.”)
I’m not sure who is therap-izing whom, but it’s all good, that’s for certain.

Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary
OK, sign us up.  So, back to the Internet.  
I found a suitable online site to register my goat.  “Service Animal,” “Emotional Support Animal,” or “Therapy animal.  Hmm.  Service animal requires the handler to have a disability.  Emotional Support Animal requires a prescription from a licensed therapist, and Therapy Animal requires a vet certificate.
Katherine doesn’t have a disability or a licensed therapist, but the goat does have a vet.  So let’s go Therapy Animal.
I filled out the online information, measured my goat for her vest, gave NSARCO my credit card and emailed NSARCO a photograph of our soon-to-be-therapy goat: Wego.

The process outlined above is a bit of a “come on.”  Buried elsewhere on the site are the details of the process: 
1) Order membership online – forms and such
2) Online application (not sure how this is different from #1 … stay tuned)
3) Veterinary certification
4) “NSAR Therapy Animal Team Assessment”
5) Graduate (basically) and receive documents, vest, ID cards

Step 4 appears to be the most subjective.  Apparently, a third party will assess Wego and Katherine (“Team Wego”) for their “functionality in a variety of scenarios.”  Hmmm.  My thought is that Wego will go to retirement homes, hospitals, nursing homes, preschools, etc. to visit folks.  Will they do a test visit somewhere I wonder? 
Sunshine the Goat (
Katherine, of course, has no idea that I am signing her up to take Wego to visit old people in nursing homes.  
She walked in a few minutes ago and I announced my plan, whereupon she chuckled.  “Well, she already goes to school with me…”  My thought exactly! We are halfway there...
Between you and me, I have an ulterior motive.  Shhh, don’t tell Katherine.  I try to teach my children to “think past their noses” all the time. 
Too often they get stuck in their own little worlds, wallowing in their own dramas and angst (i.e. “boredom”).  They spend more time in front of their screens than in front of real people, which takes a tremendous toll on their ability to empathize and relate to people in “real time.”  These little gadgets totally undermine their connection with the outside world.
And that’s where my plan comes in.  Numerous studies over the past few decades have shown that volunteering improves a person’s general sense of connection and well-being, increases self-confidence, provides a sense of purpose, and reduces depression.
But I can’t just respond to Katherine’s general teenage angst and crying jags with, “Why don’t you just go out and volunteer, honey? It’ll make you feel so much better, I promise!”  She might laugh me out of the house (which wouldn’t be terrible in the short-term, I guess).
Katherine, Cloudy and Rojito

She already loves spending time with her goats, and sharing what she knows with potential goat clients and the local 4H group.  So I’m betting that it’s not too big a leap for her to take Wego into nursing homes and hospitals.  
And if, by some chance, Katherine reads this blog entry, here’s what I have to say to her: "The three essentials of happiness are: something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to." 
Therapy Goats covers all three.
"Team Wego" coming up!