Animal Assisted Therapy – Bryndaffyd Donkeys Making  A Difference

Jasper, Polo, Enoch and Chatters

Here we take a look at how Animal Assisted Therapy has helped those who visit or those who have been visited by BAAT, in south west Wales.

What is Animal Assisted Therapy?

Animal Assisted Therapy is a technique involving a therapist, a client, an animal and an animal handler and is designed to promote an improvement in physical, social, emotional or cognitive functioning of an individual. It often occurs on a one-to-one basis with a specifically designed programme delivered by a professional with specialist expertise and includes client goals and outcomes that are recorded and evaluated.

Almost anyone can benefit from AAT, young or old, but this venture has had some especially positive outcomes from young people with autism, ADHD, depression, stress, anxiety and low self-esteem as well as dealing with grief, special needs and many other requirements.

Bryndaffyd Donkeys Making A Difference

In a quiet corner of Carmarthenshire in south west Wales is a very special place called Bryndafydd Animal Assisted Therapy (BAAT).

BAAT was set up by dedicated animal-assisted therapist, Ann Slater, who heads up a team of volunteers who are fully qualified, experienced and CRB-checked.

But of course the real magic comes from the animals that assist Ann and her team with the therapy, visiting vulnerable clients in care homes, hospitals, schools and colleges as well as offering therapy on-site at the farm.

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The therapy animals currently at BAAT are six donkeys – Enoch, Sky and Jasper are fostered from The Donkey Sanctuary, and Cariad Bach (which is Welsh for ‘Little Darling’), Hector and Polo came from private backgrounds.

Jasper, Polo, Enoch and Chatters
Jasper, Polo, Enoch and Chatters

They are joined by Robbie – a 32 inch high miniature Shetland pony and Chip – a part bred Shetland pony. The group also has two larger ponies which stand at 14.2 hands high, called George and Eclipse.  Alfie the Golden Retriever and Puss Puss, a retired youth club cat are always around to engage in therapeutic activities when groups arrive. However, it’s the donkeys that get the best reaction as they really seem to inspire and bring out the confidence in people.

Jasper enjoying some downtime after a group visit
Jasper enjoying some downtime after a group visit

The ground-breaking role that the donkeys play came from a chance encounter. Ann took on two farm donkeys which needed extra care in their old age and through her work with young people, it became apparent that something special was happening between the donkeys and young people. Even the most hardened, resistant and angry young person seemed to calm down and show affection to them. So Ann went on to develop this work in conjunction with The Donkey Sanctuary to establish a full programme of animal assisted therapy.

The group’s donkeys range from Enoch – a semi-retired veteran donkey of 27 years old, to Sky – the newest addition to the group. Research has shown that donkeys can form lifelong friendships and have the ability to experience emotions. Donkeys are smaller and less intimidating than some farm animals which allows someone with no animal experience to get close to them.

Enoch making a Christmas visit
Enoch making a Christmas visit

Enoch was the absolute master in visiting nursing homes, hospices and hospitals. He formed a strong bond with Ann, which gave him the confidence to happily enter any environment and to bring happiness and love to many people. He is now enjoying his retirement and just has twice weekly visits from school children to keep him ticking over.

With huge hooves to fill, Sky has taken over the role of being chief therapy donkey following Enoch’s retirement in 2017.  Her calm nature and love of people make her perfect for the job.

Many of the clients that are visited are slowly retreating into themselves, and the difference a visit from one of Ann’s donkeys can make is remarkable. The client is allowed to touch and smell the donkey standing calmly in front of them and enjoying the fuss and attention, and this can be a very emotional experience, bringing alive long-forgotten memories and feelings from a lifetime ago.

Donkeys have a naturally calm outlook – they have a reputation for being stubborn but that stems mainly from them choosing to stand stoically in a crisis whilst deciding how to respond. This is a totally different reaction to horses and ponies who are naturally flight animals and so makes donkeys an excellent choice for therapy animals.

All the donkeys at Bryndafydd Animal Assisted Therapy are supported with Mollichaff Donkey – a complete feed that has been formulated especially for donkeys as they require a high fibre, low starch and low protein diet, and have a different digestive system to horses and ponies. It is a highly palatable and is low in sugar, starch and energy and carries the HoofKind logo to denote that it is suitable for donkeys, mules and ponies that are prone to laminitis.

Made from a balanced blend of dried grass, fibre pellets, oat straw and soya oil with camomile, mint and lemon balm, it also contains a broad spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement which includes limestone and magnesium.

When fed at the recommended levels, Mollichaff Donkey needs no further supplementation other than good quality forage.

For further information please call the HorseHage Helpline on 01803 527274 or visit www.horsehage.co.uk