Two horses from Bellingham nonprofit Animals as Natural Therapy came to Good Samaritan Society – Stafholt on June 4 to visit with residents through the nursing facility’s windows. The horses and employees from the nonprofit provided a rare opportunity for social interaction for Stafholt residents.
“The residents loved it. Their faces got so big,” said Courtney Rusk, activity director at Stafholt.
Life has changed dramatically at Stafholt since late February. A Covid-19 outbreak took the lives of three residents and state regulations restrict residents from having visitors. The facility is now Covid-19 free, a representative form the Good Samaritan Society said.
“Seeing animals is huge for them,” Rusk said. “It didn’t just make their day but probably their whole week.” Rusk added that many of the residents grew up on farms or had horses, and they rarely if ever get to see animals now.
Animals as Natural Therapy visited Stafholt and Whatcom County nursing facilities regularly before the pandemic, said Jessie Pemble, director of outreach at the nonprofit. Before, the nonprofit brought rabbits, miniature horses or other small animals that could come inside. They had to stop in late February, as coronavirus cases arrived in nursing facilities in Washington.
“We have been trying to think of another way to still bring animals to visit folks,” Pemble said. “We just figured the big horses could come to buildings and look in the windows.”
Pemble emailed nursing facilities throughout the county in May and asked if they’d be open to having horses visit from outside. Several responded, and the nonprofit made its first visit outdoor visit to Silverado Bellingham Memory Care Community, where the horses were a hit, Pemble said.
“This is certainly not a replacement for indoor visits, but I did feel like it was important to at least bring some connection back to these seniors, these elders, that are really isolated right now. Even though we can’t do it totally in person we can at least share some space with them and let them know that they’re not alone.”
Animals as Natural Therapy is asking nursing facilities for a small donation for the visits. Pemble said people can subsidize the visits by donating to Animals as Natural Therapy. Learn more at animalsasnaturaltherapy.org.