5 cute animals that take therapy to a whole new level

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.


Image via Therapy Pets Unlimited, used with permission.

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.


Image via Therapy Pets Unlimited, used with permission.

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.

This is just a random image of llamas, but it's kind of soothing. Imaging hanging out with these guys! Image via Sheila Sund/Flickr.

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.


On a scale of one to soothed, I'm feeling pretty soothed. Image via Pete Markham/Flickr.

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.


Dramatization of Buttercup as a child. Look into its eyes. See love. Image via Marianne Perdomo/Flickr.

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.

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan
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Growing up in Indonesia, Farwiza Farhan always loved the ocean. It's why she decided to study marine biology. But the more she learned, the more she realized that it wasn't enough to work in the ocean. She needed to protect it.

"I see the ocean ecosystem collapsing due to overfishing and climate change," she says. "I felt powerless and didn't know what to do [so] I decided to pursue my master's in environmental management."

This choice led her to work in environmental protection, and it was fate that brought her back home to the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia — one of the last places on earth where species such as tigers, orangutans, elephants and Sumatran rhinoceros still live in the wild today. It's also home to over 300 species of birds, eight of which are endemic to the region.

"When I first flew over the Leuser Ecosystem, I saw an intact landscape, a contiguous block of lush, diverse vegetation stretched through hills and valleys. The Leuser is truly a majestic landscape — one of a kind."

She fell in love. "I had my first orangutan encounter in the Leuser Ecosystem," she remembers. "As the baby orangutan swung from the branches, seemingly playing and having fun, the mother was observing us. I was moved by the experience."

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

"Over the years," she continues, "the encounters with wildlife, with people, and with the ecosystem itself compounded. My curiosity and interest towards nature have turned into a deep desire to protect this biodiversity."

So, she began working for a government agency tasked to protect it. After the agency dismantled for political reasons in the country, Farhan decided to create the HAkA Foundation.

"The goals [of HAkA] are to protect, conserve and restore the Leuser Ecosystem while at the same time catalyzing and enabling just economic prosperity for the region," she says.

"Wild areas and wild places are rare these days," she continues. "We think gold and diamonds are rare and therefore valuable assets, but wild places and forests, like the Leuser Ecosystems, are the kind of natural assets that essentially provide us with life-sustaining services."

"The rivers that flow through the forest of the Leuser Ecosystem are not too dissimilar to the blood that flows through our veins. It might sound extreme, but tell me — can anyone live without water?"

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

So far, HAkA has done a lot of work to protect the region. The organization played a key role in strengthening laws that bring the palm oil companies that burn forests to justice. In fact, their involvement led to an unprecedented, first-of-its-kind court decision that fined one company close to $26 million.

In addition, HAkA helped thwart destructive infrastructure plans that would have damaged critical habitat for the Sumatran elephants and rhinos. They're working to prevent mining destruction by helping communities develop alternative livelihoods that don't damage the forests. They've also trained hundreds of police and government rangers to monitor deforestation, helping to establish the first women ranger teams in the region.

"We have supported multiple villages to create local regulation on river and land protection, effectively empowering communities to regain ownership over their environment."

She is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year. The donation she receives as a nominee is being awarded to the Ecosystem Impact Foundation. The small local foundation is working to protect some of the last remaining habitats of the critically endangered leatherback turtle that lives on the west coast of Sumatra.

"The funds will help the organization keep their ranger employed so they can continue protecting the islands, endangered birds and sea turtle habitats," she says.

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen. Do you know an inspiring woman like Farwiza? Nominate her today!

Jennifer Lawrence

After being a Hollywood staple, Jennifer Lawrence vanished from the public eye following the release of "X-Men Dark Phoenix" in 2019.

Sure, the pandemic had something to do with that … in addition to the usual way our society treats Hollywood "it" girls, once it grows accustomed to the flavor. But in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Lawrence opens up about some other reasons she chose to step away for a time.

Lawrence went from being a highly sought-after Oscar-winning actress to starring in less-than-successful films like "Passengers," "Mother!" and "Red Sparrow." The films were not only poorly received among critics, but commercially as well.

"I was not pumping out the quality that I should have," she told VF. "I just think everybody had gotten sick of me. I'd gotten sick of me. It had just gotten to a point where I couldn't do anything right. If I walked a red carpet, it was, 'Why didn't she run?'"

So then, why do it? As any workaholic would know, it's about so much more than money.

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Courtesy of Ms. Lopez
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Marcella Lopez didn't always want to be a teacher — but once she became one, she found her passion. That's why she's stayed in the profession for 23 years, spending the past 16 at her current school in Los Angeles, where she mostly teaches children of color.

"I wanted purpose, to give back, to live a life of public service, to light the spark in others to think critically and to be kind human beings," she says. "More importantly, I wanted my students to see themselves when they saw me, to believe they could do it too."

Ms. Lopez didn't encounter a teacher of color until college. "That moment was life-changing for me," she recalls. "It was the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin as a student. Always remembering how I felt in that college class many years ago has kept me grounded year after year."

It's also guided her teaching. Ms. Lopez says she always selects authors and characters that represent her students and celebrate other ethnicities so students can relate to what they read while also learning about other cultures.

"I want them to see themselves in the books they read, respect those that may not look like them and realize they may have lots in common with [other cultures] they read about," she says.

She also wants her students to have a different experience in school than she did.

When Ms. Lopez was in first grade, she "was speaking in Spanish to a new student, showing her where the restroom was when a staff member overheard our conversation and directed me to not speak in Spanish," she recalls. "In 'this school,' we only speak English," she remembers them saying. "From that day forward, I was made to feel less-than and embarrassed to speak the language of my family, my ancestors; the language I learned to speak first."

Part of her job, she says, is to find new ways to promote acceptance and inclusion in her classroom.

"The worldwide movement around social justice following the death of George Floyd amplified my duty as a teacher to learn how to discuss racial equity in a way that made sense to my little learners," she says. "It ignited me to help them see themselves in a positive light, to make our classroom family feel more inclusive, and make our classroom a safe place to have authentic conversations."

One way she did that was by raising money through DonorsChoose to purchase books and other materials for her classroom that feature diverse perspectives.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

The Allstate Foundation recently partnered with DonorsChoose to create a Racial Justice and Representation category to encourage teachers like Ms. Lopez to create projects that address racial equity in the classroom. To launch the category, The Allstate Foundation matched all donations to these projects for a total of $1.5 million. Together, they hope to drive awareness and funding to projects that bring diversity, inclusion, and identity-affirming learning materials into classrooms across the country. You can see current projects seeking funding here.

When Ms. Lopez wanted to incorporate inclusive coloring books into her lesson plans, The Allstate Foundation fully funded her project so she was able to purchase them.

"I'm a lifelong learner, striving to be my best version of myself and always working to inspire my little learners to do the same," she says. Each week, Ms. Lopez and the students would focus on a page in the book and discuss its message. And she plans to do the same again this school year.

"DonorsChoose has been a gamechanger for my students. Without the support of all the donors that come together on this platform, we wouldn't have a sliver of what I've been able to provide for my students, especially during the pandemic," she says.

"My passion is to continue striving to be excellent, and to continue to find ways to use literature as an anchor, depicting images that reflect my students," she says.

To help teachers like Ms. Lopez drive this important mission forward, donate on DonorsChoose.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

This story was originally published on The Mighty and originally appeared here on 07.21.17


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