Over the past decades, countless studies have been conducted on the impact of animals in people’s lives. The science shows that interacting with an animal on a regular basis decreases stress levels, lowers blood pressure, calms anxiety and depression, and reduces loneliness. Pet owners have the greatest advantages. Dogs have increased survival rates in coronary disease patients after heart failure, and lesson owners’ fears of becoming a victim. Families with pets
have fewer minor health problems, decreased medical costs, and increased happiness. The benefits are endless. (1)
While not everyone has the means, nor the opportunity, to possess a braying cuddly creature, by no means allow this to be a deterrent. There are rescue centers, farms, nature reserves, and sanctuaries that allow visitors to spend time with their donkeys. On many occasions, their inhabitants are rescued from abuse, neglect, or abandonment. These centers allow humans to come, not only as a means of escape for the person, but also to provide these animals the love and affection that they were deprived of in the past.
Though swimming with dolphins tends to be the most sought after experience, there arethose who are oceanically challenged. Donkeys are an excellent substitute for the slippery water creature. They too make adorable noises, if not slightly deafening when close by. Most important, they are land animals. There’s no chance for the nagging concern of a shark comingup to chomp off dangling legs while playing with them. Granted, it’s an irrational fear, but phobias are stubborn as a pregnant jenny. They will hold onto that baby for months if that’s what they please. Completely illogical.
On a more serious note, one of the most beneficial reasons to visit a donkey sanctuary is for their therapeutic options. Energetic and lively, these clever mammals adapt their behavior to the people they’re around. They can sense whether a person needs to be treated with care, or if they have the type of personality that can handle a bit of donkey humor. It’s important for
donkeys to be active and stimulate their mental abilities. They are smart, curious, and not easily startled. They also have incredible memories that allow them to recognize places and donkeys up to twenty five years later. Visitors can be just as restorative to the animals as the animals are to the people. “Shocks suffered horrendous physical and psychological abuse before his rescue by The Donkey Sanctuary. Amber, born prematurely, was not expected to walk or talk. Over the course of many months, the wounded donkey and child developed a bond that helped heal them both. Shocks is now a donkey teacher and a playful, fully integrated member of his herd at The Donkey Sanctuary Birmingham. Against medical expectation, Amberwalks, talks and is thriving.” (2)
Both sides can be healed with loving interaction. What is even more amazing than their ability to judge a situation when they are brought into the ring with a client, is the change they can bring to vulnerable adults and children. The
sessions help develop self-esteem and empathy. They learn to manage their emotions better, and are even known to help develop the ability to deal with daily challenges and stress. “When a child is able to get over their fear of interacting with an animal much bigger than themselves, this helps to build their resilience. This experience can change the neurology so that the next time they face a scary situation, they will know it’s possible to come out the other side of their fear. That confidence didn’t exist before - the experience with the donkey has rewired the brain so that they are more able to overcome their fears
and approach difficult and challenging situations.” (2)
This extraordinary phenomenon has been taken advantage of even by the prison system, teaching many to love and value life. Each experience will be unique to the individual. During a session, the donkey is released into an enclosure, and the decision is left up to them on whether or not they want to
interact with the client. What type of person do these crafty critters snub? The thought evokes images from the movie, “Ride a Wild Pony” where the pony must choose between the physically handicapped girl and the ruffian boy. The suspense is thick with anxiety. Ah, it would appear a trip to a sanctuary may now be necessary. For research sake, of course. The Sassy Ass is home of several unique, albeit temperamental personalities, but at least one of them is a love bug with a pension for cuddling. Cotton, the last of the surprise babies, is incredibly sweet. She loves to be close to people, and enjoys laying down and putting her head in a willing lap. A particularly relaxing exercise is brushing the tiny steed. The act of running a curry comb over a wide expanse quiets screaming thoughts, and wiping away the loose hair with a soft bristle brush is surprisingly satisfying. A psychology major probably has a term for this.