This time of year can be stressful for most people. Toss in exams and students can reach their limit.
Knowing this, the Huntsville High School student wellness team wanted to provide students with an opportunity to reduce their stress levels during their first semester final exams. Members of the team reached out to Angee Pell, of Sky River Meadows, to talk about her goat therapy program.
“Mental health can be a very serious issue, but we can also bring some light to it and instead of focusing on negatives and things that are wrong we can focus on things we do that make us feel good,” said Andrea Laidlaw, the mental health lead at the high school. “There’s a ton of research about animal therapy and how beneficial it is. So for students that are under a lot of stress it just seemed like a good time to try something new and bring in some animals and help the students practice things like grounding and deep breathing in a real context because if you’re not calm and grounded the goats won’t come near you.”
Laidlaw works with the school’s student wellness team, which looks at ways to help other students deal with stressful situations that may arise throughout the school year.
“It’s a small group but we work together really well,” said Megan Maynard, a member of the student wellness team.
It was the group’s idea to bring in Pell.
“Angee’s training with the goats is amazing,” said Jordan Ross, student wellness team member
Before the students could interact with the goats in a “cuddle puddle,” Pell would walk them through a breathing exercise they can use at anytime to destress and feel grounded. She said connecting with animals forces people to connect with themselves internally.
“Humans spend all of our time in our head and we need to reconnect to our body,” said Pell.
After that students were able to sit and interact with the goats, quickly learning that the calmer they were the more goats they attracted.
“There’s a lot of different wellness modalities, but animal-assisted therapy is definitely one of them. Connecting with animals, connecting with nature is like getting back to the basics. I think that’s why it works on such a simple level,” said Pell. “You just automatically feel better, you don’t even have to think about it. To have that quick of a response is pretty powerful. It’s really amazing because it can be just a few minutes of time or it can be committing to a couple of consecutive weeks or some deep personal work. It’s always positive.”
The goats have been hand-raised since birth and some have even been house trained.
“They have no fear and no boundaries,” Pell told the students, noting the goats use their mouths to explore. “They’re not used to high energy or a forceful touch. If they shy away from your touch, respect that.”
This was the first school visit the goats have made within Trillium Lakelands District School Board. Now that they have been board-approved, they are able to visit any TLDSB school.
Pell also uses the house-trained goats to do home visits with residents using Community Living services in Parry Sound.
“Week after week we see them building bonds with the animals,” said Pell. “I have the best job in the world.”
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