Help comes in many forms!
1. When it comes to being a therapy pet, Wasabi the tortoise is a pro.
Wasabi was recently certified by Therapy Pets Unlimited in Baltimore.
Sure, Wasabi looks like a rock, but she also is a rock to folks who are ill or who are alone who have access to her companionship.
Her owner, Lisa Chicarella, said to The Huffington Post: "She's not a goldfish in a shell. She is an intelligent animal. She can learn. She has and shows emotions."
As they say, "A therapy pet is born, not made."
This got me thinking. I'm used to seeing visions of adorable Labradors and golden retrievers when I think of therapy pets, and many therapy pets fit that mold.
These dogs in particular are bred to be friendly and stable, so it's no wonder they're so popular. Dewey-eyed puppies with hearts of gold are no stranger to the therapy pet world, but if Wasabi the tortoise could do it, I thought:
What other animals are out there, comforting us humans with their rock-solid temperaments?
Turns out, quite a few. Dogs have some serious therapy pet competition.
2. You can be a buck-toothed and huggable llama and be a therapy pet.
Yep. There's a llama named Rojo that's been therapy certified. Her human, Lori Gregory, dresses Rojo up in flowers and hats, and they visit local hospitals near her hometown of Vancouver, Washington. As Kelly Schmidt of the Providence Children's Center in Oregon told CNN:
“[Rojo is] such a quiet, gentle, peaceful soul … it's like he really knows how special he is and how special the kids are. ... It's very a contagious spirit to have Rojo around because it's just so unusual."
3. You can be a super tiny mini horse.
From the website of Therapy Horses of the Gentle Carousel:
"From the children and first responders of Sandy Hook Elementary School / Newtown, CT to the tornado survivors of Moore, OK and child trafficking victims in Washington D.C. these little horses bring their special love where it is needed most."
4. You can be a pregnant dolphin!
In Key Largo, Florida, there's a facility called Island Dolphin Care created by Deena Hoagland, who was also a licensed clinical social worker. Her son, Joe, had a stroke after his third heart surgery. After she saw the incredible progress Joe made after he began swimming with dolphins at age 3, she founded Island Dolphin Care.
Here's just one review of a child named Jack's time with Squirt, pictured above:
"Island Dolphin Care was never a place where I expected Jack to start walking or talking. All we ever hoped for was for Jack to have fun. It wasn't always easy. I waited everyday to see if Jack's sensitivity to the coolness of the water, his allergies, his lack of sleep, his mood in general would affect his swim with Squirt every morning. However, each time we come back, Jack has more fun than the last time. His progress in and out of the water has improved more than I could imagine."
5. You can even be a pig. A big black potbellied pig named Buttercup.
Lois Brady, a speech and language pathologist, was looking for a portable therapy animal who would also be good with the kids she worked with. She researched dogs first but then came upon a unique choice. A potbellied pig named Buttercup.
She told VetStreet:
“Many of our students have aggressive behaviors. A pig can definitely take a blow — and not turn around and want to attack."
And better yet, this pig is so novel, it's opening the minds of her students.
“Students love him because they have no preconceived notion of what a pig should be. He's so visually curious to them that they're immediately drawn to Buttercup. Kids who can't remember how to spell their own name remember everything about him, from where he sleeps to how many siblings he has."
Who knew all these animals have what it takes to be a therapy pet?
Now, don't get therapy pets confused with service animals. A therapy pet is an animal trained to provide comfort and support to people in need, particularly in times of grief, trauma and stress. A service animal is an animal trained to do tasks for a person with a disability. The fact is, the Americans With Disabilities Act only recognizes dogs and some mini horses as service animals. But therapy pets, as we see here, are all around us!
Looking at all of the animals in the animal kingdom that are there to offer a helping paw (or claw or hoof) is a great reminder that help is all around! And to never be afraid to ask for it.
And if it takes a tortoise, a llama, a mini horse, a dolphin, and a pig to give it, so be it.