• La'Chris Jordan

Pet and Animal-Assisted Therapy on the Rise in the U.S.

Updated: Sep 16



During the pandemic, there was an increasing demand for new pets as stress levels rose in the U.S., especially among children who were locked down and attending school online. According to a recent National Pet Owners Survey, seventy-percent of U.S. households, or about 90.5 million families, own a pet. Pet owners across the country also stated their pets improved both their physical and mental health.

Animal-assisted therapy, or pet therapy, is an ancient practice used to help people recover from or manage different mental illnesses or health issues such as hypertension and cancer. Recent pet therapy statistics show that felines and canines are the most frequently used animals. However, pigs, horses, and even fish can be beneficial too.


Mary Rottschaffer, owner of The Critter Barn, uses her farm for animal and human interaction by offering hands-on experiences for people of all ages and disabilities. Rottschaeffer's mission is to teach children from all walks of life about the world of nature and allow them to have the chance to experience the unconditional acceptance that an animal can provide. She says that children with disabilities, in particular, were hit hard with depression and mental health struggles as COVID-19 set in. And now, more than ever, special focus should be spent on these children's educational and physical needs.


"Persons with disabilities are often unable to participate in life's opportunities," says Rottschaffer. "The ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) standards do not work for everyone. The world they face is still compounded by barriers or a lack of suitable equipment to meet their unique needs. Hence a visit to a zoo or a nature center is cut short, so one can get loaded back onto the bus and back to their school or institution in time for personal needs to be met."



Mary Rottschaffer at The Critter Barn.

Rottschaffer noted that by watching children experience the farm, it was immediately obvious how beneficial their encounters were with the animals and that they longed for "human-animal connection."

According to animal-assisted therapy research from UCLA, the simple act of petting animals releases serotonin, prolactin and oxycontin - all hormones that can play a part in elevating moods. The research also found that this type also provides comfort, lowers anxiety and reduces loneliness.

Because of the success and demand for the farm, Rottschaffer says they are moving into a new and larger facility, offering even more programs for people with disabilities. The new facility will combine the benefits of universal design, adaptive recreational equipment and an inclusive playground so that persons with disabilities can stay at the farm for an unlimited amount of time. Rottschaffer adds that Critter Barn "targets those with disabilities to grow awareness, to demonstrate how easy it is to be involved with this population, and to bring joy and fulfillment into as many lives as possible." Many of the volunteers at the Critter Barn have pursued agricultural jobs and careers and have themselves become educators and caregivers.

"It's been a learning curve for me personally, as I didn't grow up on a farm," Rottschaffer says, "But that's the point: less than 1% of our national population is involved in farming, so it's very legitimate to make the effort to teach people. I think for adults, learning is the attraction. People are created with curiosity. Gaining knowledge is interesting and fascinating. And we believe that persons with disabilities can enjoy an improved experience in situations and in life, and that organizations like ours need to make that extra effort."


ABOUT CRITTER BARN

Critter Barn is an educational farm offering hands-on experiences to people of all ages and all abilities for over thirty years. It is a unique, welcoming destination that teaches about agriculture while reconnecting people with the natural world. Growing attendance and a commitment to accessibility have fueled a major expansion, supported by philanthropists and agricultural organizations. To learn more visit https://www.critterbarn.org or follow on Instagram or Facebook.

CONTACT

Mary Rottschafer office@critterbarn.org 616-748-1110 https://www.critterbarn.org

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