I love my goats. They always make me smile, and the same goes for everyone who visits my farm. Sometimes life can be stressful though, as I found out in the spring of 2016. I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease while also going through a divorce. Dealing with both at once was very difficult. There was only one thing that would always make me feel better, and that was my goats.
There was one little baby doeling in particular that really brightened my days. Her name is Annie Goatley. Annie is a Nigerian Dwarf mini goat. Every time I looked at her, she brought a smile to my face, and I knew everything was going to work out. As I used the goats for my personal therapy, I started thinking that I could help other people that are suffering from stress, depression, illness, autism or PTSD by starting a therapy program using my goats. Equine and canine therapy are widely used and recognized for their medical benefits, so why not goat therapy?
It’s rare a person who hasn’t heard about the wonders a therapy animal can bring, from lowering blood pressure to fostering connections for a child with autism. While we usually relate this type of therapy to dogs and horses, we’re steadily branching out and experimenting with several types of animals of different shapes and sizes.
What is a therapy animal? A therapy animal is an animal that provide’s affection and comfort to people who need it. They are often used in hospitals, assisted living homes, nursing homes, schools, rehabilitation centers, hospices and other areas to help improve their well-being. Therapy animals are not required to be certified and there are many websites that tout certifying your animals as therapy animals but it is for the most part a sales tool to sell “therapy animal tags” which are not accredited and are not regulated.
A therapy animal is different than a service animal. Service animals perform tasks for people with disabilities and have a legal right to accompany their owners into almost any area they need to go. In the United States, service animals are legally protected at the federal level by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Therapy animals are not trained to assist specific individuals and do not qualify as service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Research indicates that interaction with therapy animals can temporarily affect the release of various neurotransmitters in the brain. Oxytocin levels (linked with bonding) and dopamine levels (involved in the reward-motivation system) are increased, while cortisol levels (an immunosuppressant associated with stress) are decreased. All of which are very beneficial to the patients. My goats gave me a happy distraction, helped me forget that I was in pain and kept me from feeling depressed. I want to pass along that gift so that my goats can help others!
Just about any breed of goat can be a therapy goat. I raise a few different breeds at my farm. Therapy goats need to be friendly and enjoy human contact. They should be raised from a young age to have as much human contact and affection as possible. Wethers (a castrated goat) and does make the best therapy goats.
For goat therapy questions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Animal Assisted Therapy & What Science Says
For Mental Health:
- The simple act of petting animals releases an automatic relaxation response.
- Humans interacting with animals have found that petting the animal promoted the release of serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin- all hormones that can play a part in elevating moods.
- Lowers anxiety and helps people relax.
- Provides comfort.
- Reduces loneliness.
- Increases mental stimulation.
- Assist in recall of memories and help sequence temporal events in patients with head injuries or chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
- Can provide an escape or happy distraction.
- Can act as catalysts in the therapy process.
- May help break the ice.
- May reduce the initial resistance that might accompany therapy.
For Physical Health:
- Lowers blood pressure and improves cardiovascular health.
- Reduces the amount of medications some people need.
- Breathing slows in those who are anxious.
- Releases many hormones such as Phenylethylamine which has the same effect as chocolate.
- Diminishes overall physical pain.
- Relax more during exercise.
- Participants were motivated, enjoyed the therapy sessions more, and felt the atmosphere of the session was less stressful during Animal-Assisted therapy.
- For Children with Autism
- Many children with autism feel a deep bond with animals and feel that they are able to relate better than humans.
- Children with autism were engaged in significantly greater use of language as well as social interaction win their therapy sessions that incorporated animals compared to standard therapy sessions without them.