Monday, January 30, 2012

Birds of a Feather

This summer I will be doing an 8 week rotation somewhere in New Orleans. I put the VA hospital as my first choice because I want to make sure that I have experience practicing physical therapy in many different settings. If I do get placed at the VA hospital, I plan on telling the people I work with about Serenity Park.

Serenity Park was started by a psychologist's love of veterans and parrots. Dr. Lorin Lindner was working at a VA hospital in California and she found that the veterans had a hard time opening up to her. On a whim, she took them to a parrot sanctuary that she had opened 10 years earlier. The vet's reactions to the birds were incredible.“The next thing I knew, they were down on the ground cuddling the birds and talking baby talk to them,” Dr, Lindner related in an interview.

Using her knowledge of birds and psychology, she convinced the VA hospital to open a parrot sanctuary on the property. Her plan included using the birds in animal assisted therapy for the veterans' psychological needs and the care of the birds as a reintroduction to the skills necessary for reentering the workforce.

The relationship has "taken flight". As a result of their programming, several of the veterans move on to working with animals in some capacity from dog grooming, to veterinary clinics. "One veteran now works for Los Angeles Animal Services and another opened his own animal-based construction company that builds boarding facilities and aviaries", Dr. Lindner reports. The birds have also benefited; having a place with ample space, food choices, and socialization increases the birds' quality of life. Often people will get a parrot without doing research and usually the bird pays for this mistake. Serenity Park is a sanctuary for those birds when their owners no longer want them or can take care of them.
Boomer, a Catalina Macaw that lives at the Audubon Zoo. *
Picture taken by Amy Martin
Most parrots are monogamous and therefore take time to bond with a person. Before reading about Serenity Park, I didn't think that parrots could be therapy animals for that reason. Now I see that working with a parrot is a great way to teach about relationship building with a focus on patience. Building relationships takes time, and so does healing. At the end of both, the rewards are great.

*Boomer was relinquished by her previous owners, as were all of the parrots in the education collection at the zoo.  A fellow blogger, and former keeper, explains the issues with this process in her post.

Friday, January 27, 2012

You're Never Fully Dress Without a Smile

Sometimes the most healing thing is seeing a smile on a friendly face.

If that didn't do it for you, here's a whole page of smiling animals.
My favorites are the owl, elephant seal, and of course the sheep.
Hopefully this will help when you're having a bad day!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Art of Healing

Most people have finger painted before

But what about painting with the ear of a dog, or tail of a horse?

At Special Troopers Adaptive Riding School (or S.T.A.R.S. Inc), some students did just that. The art project was part of a fundraiser for the group but it ended up being a teaching tool as well. S.T.A.R.S. works with people with "physical, cognitive, emotional, behaviors or social challenges" so the physical act of painting was a great therapy exercise, especially when you mix in some animal partners. There's a slide show of the art work here.

While, that is the only time I've heard of animals being used as a medium for art, other groups have used animals as inspiration for art.

This is a blog that I follow and the writer occasionally offers art workshops which her animals are a part of. gives you the details about one coming up in September so you can experience for yourself what animals and art can do.

Even the San Diego Zoo has gotten into connecting animals, art and healing. Here's a video from one of their workshops:

You can find more program information here at their old website or learn about what they are currently doing here at their new website.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Helping Hand

I love that the lizard reached out to a friend in need!

This image, taken by Alexey Tymoshenko from Caters News, made it on "Best Image of the Week" on Yahoo!. I'd have to agree.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Thunder Dog

Over this winter break from school I was required to read a book about a person with a disability and then write a reflection paper about it. While looking through the long list of approved books, I noticed that not a single one included human-animal interactions. I was sure that such a book must exist and I was determined to read it. I did some research and found I was right; several people have written about how their animals have helped them with their disability. This gave me an idea for my blog; I will read one such book and write about it once a month.

Michael Hingson was born blind as a result of a medical procedure that was administered to premature babies at the time. He did not let that stop him from anything though, as a child he'd ride his bicycle unaccompanied throughout the neighborhood, in college he drove his car around the campus, and he even flew and landed a Cessna airplane from Boise to Hailey, Idaho (~100 miles).

He was first paired up with a Guide Dog when he was 14. I love how he explains that experience; you get excited along with him as he's waiting to meet his new teammate, Squire. Michael describes the training process he went through to learn the commands, as well as a brief history of Guide Dogs.

"Squire and I developed a partnership, and I learned how to read Squire's body language through the handle of the harness; I could almost tell what he was going to do before he did it. I think he learned to read me too. He was much more than just a pet. Squire was my best friend, and we became a team as he guided me safely through the halls of Palmdale High School for the next four years."

Most of the book is about his partnership with Roselle though. She is the one that was with him in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Roselle is described as having two personalities, one playful and mischievous, stealing socks and hiding them, and the other when she's in her harness calm and focused.

That calm and focus allowed Michael to remain calm and clearheaded about the situation as they walked down  1,463 stairs to escape Tower 1. When a woman started to panic, Roselle nudged her hand; a moment after rubbing Roselle, the woman was able to continue on.  As a team, they demonstrated that it was going to be ok, they would make it out alive.

Michael talks about how wise his Guide Dogs are and included this list in his book:
"What I learned from Roselle on 9/11
1. There's a time to work and a time to play. Know the difference. When the harness goes on, it's time to work. Work hard; others are depending on you.
2. Focus in and use all of your senses. Learn to tell the difference between a harmless thunderstorm and a true emergency. Don't let your sight get in the way of your vision.
3. Sometimes the way is hard, but if you work together, someone will pass along a water bottle just when you need it.
4. Always, but always, kiss firefighters.
5. Ignore distractions. There's more to life than playing fetch or chasing tennis balls.
6. Listen carefully to those who are wiser and more experienced than you. They'll help you find the way.
7. Don't stop until work is over. Sometimes being a hero is just doing your job.
8. The dust cloud won't last forever. Keep going and look for the way out. It will come.
9. Shake off the dust and move on. Remember the first guide dog command? "Forward"
10. When work is over, play hard with your friends. And don't forget to share your Booda Bone."

Sadly, Roselle passed away on June 26, 2011. You can learn more about her life and make a contribution at Roselle's Dream Foundation.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book. I learned that being blind is not necessarily a disability, it just means that you experience life differently, and we all experience life differently. At the end of the book there are some neat extras including a timeline of the events of September 11th, courtesy rules for blindness, a dissertation about blindness, resources for blindness, and a glossary of terms related to blindness.
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