In tow of course were our special visiting therapy animals, including Toby the Miniature Horse, Gabby the Golden Retriever, and bunnies Scarlett, Skeeter, and Alfie. It was slow-moving down the hallways, being stopped by person after person, resident & staff alike, wanting to see the animals! We ended up extending our hour-long visit to almost two hours to make sure everyone got time with the critters. Thanks to our wonderful volunteers, we had the flexibility to offer this additional time to greet every resident.
One man called us into his room, saying he loved horses and wanted to see Toby. His wife, visiting for the afternoon, beamed as she filmed their interaction on her phone. She wanted to share the moment with the rest of their family. At first, the man struggled to reach Toby’s face; Toby noticed this and lowered his nose onto the bed, resting in reach of his hand so the man could stroke his soft nose.
The horses are so intuitive and always seem to know who needs them and how to connect; we often don’t even have to ask a horse to move before they are shifting themselves.
A Mobile ANT volunteer shared this anecdote after our visit:
“Oh, Toby. He’s so sweet and patient. Yesterday, while Toby was visiting with someone (let’s call him Fred), Fred’s roommate, *Bob, was sound asleep in his part of the room. I came in with the lovely Gabby the Golden, and she sniffed Bob’s slippers while we waited our turn to visit with Fred. As Toby was leaving, Bob woke up. The look on his face was priceless. I told Bob, “Hi there! You aren’t dreaming. There really is s horse in your room and his name is Toby!” It took Bob a minute and then he started chuckling. “I wasn’t quite sure!” he said. Can you imagine? These visits are so important. They break up the rhythm of the residents’ day in a lovely way.”
Another favorite visitor was a young volunteer, helping his mom carry Skeeter the Rabbit from room to room. Many residents were delighted to have a child visiting, as grandchildren are often missed around the holidays. It is not surprising to see elders more excited by our youth volunteers than by the animals; many seniors are lonely and miss their own families, and care staff, while compassionate and dedicated to their work, are not replacements for friends & loved ones. This mom & son duo were particularly a hit in the bingo room, where tables filled with residents stopped their games to meet the boy and his rabbit friend.
Our rabbits, dog, miniature horse, and volunteers continued to charm people all around the building (over 130 residents!), as we shared holiday greetings and well wishes. As word began to spread that animals were coming down the halls, residents could be seen peeking out of their doors to catch a glimpse (as if trying to discern if the rumors were true!); some even rolled their wheelchairs out into the hallway to make sure the horse didn’t pass them by!
A woman was waiting for us as we rounded a corner and immediately called out to Toby, “Come here, you!” A staff advised us that she was hard of hearing, so Toby’s handler huddled close to the woman’s side and began talking to her. She quite assertively instructed us to go into her room and see her horse; at first we were perplexed, but at her urging entered the room and quickly saw what she wanted to share. Framed and mounted on the wall was a large black & white photograph of a racehorse, jockey sat atop his tall, handsome back, with a winner’s bouquet of roses draped down his neck. “Miracle Escort” his name, the horse was raised & trained by the woman now eagerly petting our miniature horse in the hallway. It had been years since she last saw a horse in person, and she adored Toby with his holiday ribbons and soft coat. Her weathered hands knew just where to land on his neck, and she asked for her photograph to be taken with him to send to her daughter.