Facing Our Fears178a0353

By Sonja Wingard, Director

I always wondered if I ever got cancer, would I fight it or roll over and give up?

On May 14th I attended a large community gathering at Whatcom Community College discussing with the state charter schools’ commission the need for an alternative high school for youth who are currently not staying in school nor graduating high school. This demographic population is one that Animals as Natural Therapy (ANT) has been very concerned with. For twenty years we have worked to help these youth believe in their possibilities before they get overly discouraged and drop out.

The mastermind behind this new school is Cindy Reuther. Her focus groups with these youth have indicated that they are requesting an animal component to their curriculum and so ANT had been approached to offer our programming for their youth.

There was a great turnout and a lovely dinner provided by the Hispanic community, and suddenly I got an incredibly relentless gut pain. After six hours with no let-up I ended up in the ER. Within 16 hours I had surgery to remove a blockage in my small intestine. I was given the hard news that I have a type of lymphoma, a slow- growing blood cancer. I had had no inclination of this, I had just been a little extra tired this spring.

My life had changed suddenly. As I lay in the hospital bed the day after surgery I was discouraged to say the least. I didn’t want to be forced into taking time to take better care of myself or spending my valuable hours at doctors’ offices.

But honestly, I had always been terrified of cancer. My two older siblings both died of cancer, at age 32 and 37, and I had taken care of them as they moved through the tough endings. I didn’t want cancer ever. And not now. And I didn’t know if I had the guts to give it a good fight. I always wondered if I ever got cancer, would I fight it or roll over and give up? I felt that I had a personal relationship with it for years and saw it as a monster, eating people I love. So now I have this diagnosis myself. Can this be real?

Then I had a thought that gave me a blast of courage. I teared up as I thought of the last twenty years and all the brave people I have stood beside at my farm. So many youth and veterans who faced huge challenges in their lives and bravely processed them beside a horse or while snuggling a dog or bunny. I thought of those who were terrified to pick up a horse’s hoof or walk around the backside of a thousand-pound animal.

Many of the people who come to ANT come from incredibly tough lives. And they come here to face their personal monsters: anxiety, mental health diagnoses, physical or sexual abuse, substance abuse, or traumas. I could take my courage from them. And I have been doing this since May 16th.

I shared my diagnosis with the teens from the Swinomish tribe at day camp. As I looked around the circle of youthful faces I told them that they give me hope, that as I see kids week after week challenge themselves to overcome some pretty tough issues that I find great strength in them, and that their courage is contagious.

“…we have smooth days and rougher days and it’s all part of life.”

Swinomish Native American teen

One teen gifted me her “healing sunflower” puppet that she had created at camp, as well as her mobile with very different textures of ornamentation, “representing that we have smooth days and rougher days and it’s all part of life”. flower-puppet

This work feeds my soul and these people have given me courage to face my cancer.

The latest news is ‘no chemo needed at this time’ as no sign of growth since the May surgery. Thank you, Lord, that I live in a country that has surgery and health care available, and a life where I have healthy veggies growing in the garden outside my door… and the opportunity to learn how to remove toxins from my life!

I sincerely thank all of you who have supported the youth & veterans coming to this farm over the past twenty years, all those whom have given me courage by witnessing their own overcoming of challenges. Thanks for the years of prayers as well as financial support for it all.

Blessings! ~ Sonja

Mobile ANT: Updatecymera_20180731_173613

By Jessie Pemble

We are all deserving of giving and receiving love

Have you seen the Mobile ANT van around town? We’re on the road almost every week now! Since January, Mobile ANT has delighted residents, staff and guests on over 50 visits to locations around Whatcom County, with nearly the entire barnyard in tow! It’s such fun to see eyes widen and hear gasps of surprise when we open the van doors to reveal three eager miniature horses, a sight most unusual for senior care residences.

The sunshine and warm days have offered opportunities to visit outside, which relaxes the animals and bestows a breath of fresh air to folks who have spent the better part of their year indoors. To see a resident enjoy the soft fur of a rabbit with the sun on her face, or listen as another recounts how he used to ride horses under a blue Missouri sky, reminds us that it takes very little to brighten the human spirit. By taking our interactions with residents outdoors we open up a world of sensory experiences that enrich the animal engagement even further, stimulating memories of time spent on farms or in backyards with the animals of their youth.whiskers-and-old-hands-copy

Recently a gentleman shared that “animals are good for the soul”, which is evident on the faces of those we encounter, as they gaze at Tinkerbell (our chicken) sleeping in her basket, or gently hold a velvety rabbit ear in their fingers. You can’t miss the smiles that beam as Toby, Persephone, & Midnight Mocha (mini horses), nuzzle warm breath into an outstretched hand, or the laugh of acceptance as Gabby, our golden retriever, takes up residence on the feet of an unsuspecting “victim”, begging for a belly rub. 

The simplicity of touching an animal actually affords a complex response, as the moment of reaction is so organic. Clenched hands relax in order to embrace the curve of a rabbit’s back, and individuals seemingly resigned to their chair or bed reach forward to stroke the neck of a miniature horse. The presence of these creatures inspires movement and engagement not often achieved by other means, and we are afforded moments with people’s truest selves as they respond to the animals. Even concerns of language, speaking ability, and physical dexterity become obsolete as the animals require no special capabilities or competencies; simply sharing space with them is a calming and happy gift for many. The animals exhibit no judgement and express no shame, a reminder that we are all deserving of giving and receiving love.

“Animals are good for the soul.”

~ Silverado Resident

This year we are excited to welcome a number of new facilities into the Mobile ANT roster, including Brookdale Fairhaven, The Willows, Dorothy Place, and Christian Health Care Center in Lynden, along with our regular trips to Silverado Memory Care and St. Francis. Our visit to CHCC was generously sponsored by the family of a resident and we were thrilled to have them join us for our afternoon with the miniature horses. If you have a relative or loved one residing in Whatcom County, sponsoring a Mobile ANT visit can be a wonderful gift as many facilities have little funding for this kind of activity. Consider providing a visit and we welcome you to share the hour with us!

Mobile ANT in the news: In May, ANT animals were the special guests at Microsoft Build, a 5,000-person conference in Seattle welcoming developers from all corners of the world. The rabbits, minis, and Gabby charmed staff and guests alike, and even made it into The Seattle Times! ANT was invited back to Microsoft this July to share our animals at their Redmond headquarters, and we had a wonderful time engaging with employees and administrators.

Check out photos & insights from our trips and read the Seattle Times article on our website! 


178a0392Farewells: Maya & Artemis

By Haley Didier

“Artemis teaches us to ask permission to approach another, and how to be tender.”
~ Program Youth

Life is full of change, and that includes life here at ANT. There are many transitions here; and more specifically, our equine teachers come in and out of our program with grace and always with so many lessons for all of us. There have been a few recent changes in our herd which have both broken our hearts and made them swell with happiness. Two of our herd members, Maya and Artemis, found new homes last month.

During Maya’s appreciation circle the day she went to her new home, the faces of the people who love her were filled with tears for this horse whose heart is so full of pure love that it spills out and touches everyone she works with. During her time at ANT, she showed up as a friend, a teacher, and a solid partner to lean on for her youth and veteran companions. Her gentle, protective nature provided endless support even in her partial blindness. She taught lessons of empathy, acceptance, forgiveness and compassion.

During my short year and a half with Maya, there was only one day that she chose not to participate in the lesson – and it was only because she was feeling ill that day and knew that she needed to take care of herself first. And in that decision, she taught her youth how to be flexible and empathetic towards the needs of another being. We have seen countless tender moments with youth burying their head in Maya’s neck to be vulnerable and feel the solid support of their friend alongside them. She is truly full of grace, and has kept that grace as she moves into the next chapter in her life; we send her with all of our love.

“She is a big horse with an even bigger heart.” ~ Program Youth, about Maya

artemis-maya-headshotWe have also recently said our farewells to Artemis. Although she decided that she didn’t want to be a therapy horse and we honored her decision by finding a home where she can be her happiest self, she still taught many lessons during the four years she lived here. Though she was quick to trust Trish, our trainer genie, she asked others to earn her trust slowly. This is a valuable gift in itself. Last fall, a Visions teen in recovery who was used to always getting her own way learned to honor Artemis’s needs. She started singing to Artemis to soothe both the horse and herself, and later ended up singing at a holiday fundraising event for Visions.

Standing 17+ hands tall and sturdy as a rock, Artemis emulates strength and solidity. Her personality is as strong as her stature, and using this she has taught many people – including participants and staff members alike – how to stand up for themselves and set boundaries. She is a model in setting boundaries herself, and we commend her for being true to herself and finding her way to a home where she is delighted to have just one loving person to care for her and become her partner. She will be missed.

Volunteers Move Mountains

By Laura Hale

Have you heard the saying, “Volunteers are the backbone of our agency”?

At Animals as Natural Therapy that is not true; our volunteers are the ‘muscle’, the ‘arms and the legs’ that carry-out big chores and pick up the little details, so we can provide quality that is effective! Just what do ANT volunteers do?

Events: Planning, preparation, and presentation of 3-4 yearly events! Volunteers take charge of decorations, fundraising, auction procurement, set-up, and more! The Bluegrass Bash had 65 volunteers. The Gala had 110. The Healing Hearts Breakfast had 35; and the Blessing of the Animals had 53.

Program mentors commit to 9 hours of training before they work at day camp (a 35-hour commitment) or our afterschool program (a 20-hour commitment). Our programs run year-round so multiply by 3! Mobile ANT is a multigenerational program visiting elders, and requires families of volunteers up to 3 times per month. Community presentations & events can require up to 10 volunteers, 2-6 times a year.

Chores: ANT has volunteers helping with data entry, answering phones, printing materials, working on letters and posters, preparing props for events and programs, hand writing ‘thank you’ notes and invitations. We have phone-a-thon fundraisers with 10-15 volunteers involved. We have farm chores (so many farm chores): currently 12 feeder/muckers are volunteering weekly in our barnyard.

The Board is all volunteer. Numbers vary from 6-12 participants. They donate approximately 895 hours annually!

Big Thank You to Julia, Emily, & Betty!

Julia Clifford has spearheaded our fundraising for the past two years. She has demonstrated great organizational skills leading our Healing Hearts Breakfast and Annual Shining Stars Gala. We have great appreciation for her leadership of a variety of team efforts. Julia recently left ANT to pursue her documentary filmmaking and artistic interests.

Emily Gordon has been a valuable member of our team for 3.5 years ensuring that our animals are fed and happy. She helped train Moonshadow’s daughter Starlight, our youngest horse. Emily is now pursuing her veterinarian career.

Betty Barats has worked as a volunteer, carrying ANT’s volunteer program for 2 years. She recruited and managed 14,500 hours of volunteer time, which is valued at $440,000. Betty’s warmth and organizational ability has contributed greatly to the lives of the many children and veterans who come to ANT to transform their lives.


Horsin’ Around Campaign 2018

By Leslie Grace

This year we had a big push to increase our sponsorships. Thanks to Julia Clifford’s hard work and the generosity of our wonderful community, we gained 17 new sponsors! This set off a flurry of wooden horse construction and sign painting.

Special thanks to Fred Krapf for helping cut out horses, Laura Hale for her wonderful artistic flair and her amazing and extensive back up help, Julia Clifford for hand lettering, Kelsy Hartmann for consultation, and Laura and Kelsy for mounting them on the fence just in time for our wonderful Bluegrass Bash!hac-photos

We thank our 2018 BUSINESS SPONSORS

ACS, Inc Bank of the Pacific Bellingham Appliance Repair Builder’s Alliance Chicago Title Community Food Co-op D.A. Davidson Freeland & Associates, Inc. Louis Auto Glass Math ‘n’ Stuff Meridian Equipment Co. Mills Electric Newhaven Dental Nooksack Animal Hospital Portal Way Farm & Garden Rice Insurance-Jay Gossage Samson Rope Technologies Sanitary Service Company Scratch & Peck Feeds Solar is Practical Spongebon Stremler Gravel Superfeet Tiger Construction Walton Beverage Pepsi Cola Washington Tractor WECU Whatcom Land Title Windermere Foundation Windermere-Mike Kent Windermere-Rob Washburn 

se6a9975Summer News

By Shannon McCune Dickerson

Day camps were a huge success and nearly 90 youth attended! Both the Swinomish and Lummi tribes sent their teens for the powerful experience of day camp. We are excited to be expanding relationships with our local Native populations.

As we retired older horse friends, we welcomed a new one, Freesia, an eight-year old Hafflinger. Two new rabbits, Scarlet and Skeeter, have joined our Mobile ANT team. Our new barn kitten Figaro provides cuddles and entertainment for all. We are working to strengthen our fundraising plan to support better sustainability of our programming so that referring families, counselors and agencies can be assured that we have places for their vulnerable youth.


Board Members

Charlie Embry PhD

JoAnne Wyatt

Jolynn Sullivan

Diane Krapf

Greg Rice

Susanne Snortland

Outgoing members:

Christa Shaw, MSW

Aileen Gardner

Welcoming new members:

Laura Weiss

Pat Vokey


Words from parents & families of ANT youth (* names changed for confidentiality) 

“She is so full of joy getting an opportunity to work and be with animals. She feels more herself and forgets about anxiety and accidents when she is with animals. I love getting the excited and delighted re-cap about her time at ANT.”

“Between the Fall and Winter session, Alex* tested an entire grade level higher in both reading and math. Her anger, frustration, and distrust of adults has decreased significantly. She is really at a turning point.”

“She has been more willing to talk about her feelings instead of storming off. She is willing to communicate effectively.”

“We have seen significant changes at school, in our family, and in Ashley’s* social skills since [attending] ANT.”

“She returns from her time at the farm more regulated and with a more positive attitude.”

“I have noticed a big change in Ben’s* attitude; In the past weeks we have had home issues, and watching the way he acts and deals with it has really improved. I believe the way he has been around [his horse] Rusty has helped him to control his feelings at home.”


Upcoming Events






13th Annual Bluegrass Bash at Windy Acres!

Nearly 400 people enjoyed the event, a record attendance, and $7,000 was raised for ANT’s youth & veterans! Thank you to Stremler Gravel for sponsoring our band, Queen’s Bluegrass!

Odds & Ends


We need your help organizing events: from helping with the Healing Hearts Breakfast as a Table Ambassador, to securing the GALA’s silent auction items. If you LOVE being part of organizing events, come JOIN US!

Each sub-committee will meet two or three times before the event. Or you can help us get ready a few days before and/or on the day of the event.

Interested? Please contact Laura Hale, Volunteer Coordinator: (360) 671-3509 OR