NE: Goats as therapy animals

on Nov 12 in Industry News, News

Gigi the goat takes a rest on the lap of Duane Vannice, a resident at the Gateway Senior Living community, on Friday, Nov. 2, 2012 in Lincoln. Gigi is a therapy animal brought in to aid and entertain the residents.   LOCAL TV OUT; KOLN-TV OUT; KGIN-TV OUT; KLKN-TV OUT Photo: The Journal-Star, Kristin Streff  / AP
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The  rose-topped red hat locked into the stubby horns is the first clue Gigi is not  your typical goat.

The second might be her red,  knitted sweater and matching diaper with a hole for her wagging tail.

The fashion-conscious goat was  decked out in Husker red Friday.

Three days a week, she commutes  from an acreage south of Lincoln to Gateway  Senior Living Center to work as a therapy animal. Her job is to lift spirits  just by being herself.

Gigi, a black and white  miniature silky, often finds herself in someone’s lap, being stroked softly and  spoken to kindly by elderly residents.

“Hi sweetie. Hello,” said Jean  Vannice, one of her biggest fans. “I love her. She’s so agreeable. So cute.  So smart.”

Her husband, Duane  Vannice, likes Gigi, too. Unable to participate in recreational activities  because of Parkinson’s disease, he loves to hold her.

“Well, hello there, rascal,” he  said as Gigi’s owner, Jen  Schurman, placed the goat in his lap.

The 90-something man used to  raise foxes, mink, chickens and dogs on a ranch in western Nebraska, and Gigi  brings back fond memories.

Triggering recollections is just  one of the things therapy animals do, Schurman said.

“There’s really incredible data  for animal-assisted therapy that shows what animals can do and humans can’t do  for patients.”

Studies have shown that goats,  dogs and other therapy animals can ease feelings of separation from loved ones,  lower blood pressure, heart rate and stress levels and reduce aggression and  rage in Alzheimer’s patients.

Cathy  Betz, a self-proclaimed animal lover, said Gigi helps her relax.

“I get happy. It gets me out of  depression,” she said.

Schurman, the center’s activity  director since February, said Gigi does all the work.

“My job is to get out of the way  and let her sense what the people need.”

She began working with therapy  animals about 10 years ago. Gigi, a gift from a goat-raising friend, is her  third therapy goat, and one of seven she owns.

Miniature silkies are bred as  show animals, and Gigi, who weighs 20 pounds, has a body temperature of 103  degrees — ideal for warming laps — and who loves people, is ideal for  the job.

“When I am training a therapy  animal, I am training for affection,” Schurman said.

Part of Gigi’s training  includes imprinting.

“She has come to recognize  people as part of her herd,” Schurman said.

The goat does have her  favorites, and Jean  Clausen is one of them.

“She picked me early on. I don’t  know why,” Clausen said. “I keep forgetting that she’s not a dog.”

Schurman started taking Gigi to  the center in June, and she was an instant hit.

“Animal lovers are animal  lovers. As long as it has four legs and they can pet it, they’re happy,”  she said.

Gigi, like all of the therapy  animals Schurman uses, was born in April and will be certified by an  animal-assisted therapy organization after she turns 1. Schurman also has dogs,  a Great Pyrenees named Skyler, who is too big for the center, and a Lab named  Belle, who isn’t old enough yet.

At work, Gigi follows Schurman  wherever she goes.

“If she can’t find me, she  cries,” Schurman said. “Her nature is to stay where people are.”

Gigi got her name through a  name-the-goat contest. Schurman said it either stands for Gateway Goat or Good  Girl, take your pick.

“I think she’s pretty cute, and  I like the clothing she wears,” housekeeper Amy  Richardson said. “The residents just love her.”

Just ask Ed  Bede.

“Well, I’m married. Otherwise, I  would be madly in love with her.”

Gigi the goat, a therapy animal brought in to aid and entertain the residents at the Gateway Senior Living community, follows her owner Jen Schurman down the hall on Friday, Nov. 2, 2012 in Lincoln. Gigi is a therapy animal brought in to aid and entertain the residents.   LOCAL TV OUT; KOLN-TV OUT; KGIN-TV OUT; KLKN-TV OUT Photo: The Journal-Star, Kristin Streff  / AP

 

Information from: Lincoln  Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Goat-befriends-elderly-at-Lincoln-care-center-4023504.php#ixzz2C3p05bJc