Therapeutic Petting Zoo in the Outback Adopts Exotic Animals

Animal assisted therapy offers comfort and support for people with disabilities.

Mar 2, 2021
Therapeutic Petting Zoo in the Outback Adopts Exotic Animals | Animal assisted therapy offers comfort and support for people with disabilities.

When most people think of a petting zoo, they envision baby goats, lambs, and other tame farm animals. it’s unlikely that they think of dingoes, camels, reindeer, emu, and a collection of native desert animals but those are the animals living in a therapeutic petting zoo in Australia’s outback.

Animal therapy or pet therapy uses animals to help people cope with disabilities, as well as some physical and mental health issues according to Medical News Today. Animals are able to provide comfort by forming animal-human bonds that are calming, helps to reduce stress, and may even aid in pain relief.

While many support animals are dogs and cats, they don’t have to be. Petah Devine and Duncan Pickering have adopted some unusual animals for their unique exotic animal petting zoo according to ABC News. The baby emu was the latest animal added to the family.

Devine told ABC. “Some friends of ours own a station and happened to come across a baby emu and looked after him for a couple of months. Then they got a bit busy so they messaged me and lo and behold said, ‘Oh, we've got an emu, do you want to look after him?’

“Of course I said, ‘Yes’, and Totto came out here a couple of weeks ago and settled in fine with everybody.”

The couple already ran a camel riding operation on their Silverton, New South Whales farm. Starting a therapeutic petting zoo was just a natural extension for this animal loving couple. The idea came to them after they hosted a disability group from Broken Hill.

Disability Support Leader Rebecca Giuliani, from Live Better Disability Community Services Centre brought eight clients to the farm to spend time with the animals. She told ABC that during the visit, the group’s morale, attitude and behavior improved.

“That day it was raining but none of us wanted to get out of the rain, we just stood there and patted the camels and fed them carrots,” she said. "The animals were really gentle … it was therapeutic, it's quite relaxing out there.”

Therapeutic petting zoos are not unique to Australia. There is a special petting zoo –  full of hamsters, rabbits, mules, turtles and a host of reptiles and birds –  at Neve Hanna, a children’s home located in Kiryat Gat in Southern Israel. The children who live there have been removed from their homes and many have been traumatized. Animal assisted therapy is a big part of their healing process.

Petting a soft furry bunny or hand feeding a hamster can do a lot of good.  Animals do not criticize or give the children grades, according to the organization’s website. The children develop relationships with the animals without any expectations and they gain security, a feeling of success, and improved self-respect.

In the US, Barn Babies is a traveling pet therapy program. Baby animals like chicks, ducklings, bunnies, and pot-bellied pigs are brought into nursing homes in Massachusetts and Rhode Island as treatments to lower anxiety and boost the mood of the residents.

In the Netherlands, cow hugging is a new trend for mental well-being. Cow hugging or koe knuffelen in Dutch is centered on the healing practices of animal-human bonding and is believed to be calming and to reduce stress.

While not all of these programs  have an exotic menagerie of animals they all provide therapeutic experiences for people in need. It seems to work for people of all ages and with differing diagnoses and with varying animals. This shows that safe social contacts with our furry friends can be important healing experiences and do a world of good.

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Bonnie has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.