Lit­tle don­key is the star

Hinckley Times - - NEWS -

SHE may only be six months old and stand just 27 inches high, but that is not stop­ping lit­tle don­key Isla from bring­ing fes­tive joy to hun­dreds of peo­ple this Christ­mas.

Al­though she has only been work­ing a few weeks, the minia­ture Mediter­ranean don­key is prov­ing quite the lit­tle star when she vis­its care homes, hos­pi­tals and schools for cud­dles and ther­a­peu­tic care.

Lit­tle Isla be­longs to mum-of-two Sara Kelly, who set up her busi­ness Al­fie the Ther­apy Horse, in Le­ices­ter­shire, after see­ing how in­ter­ac­tion with an­i­mals can make a real dif­fer­ence to peo­ple’s lives.

“Minia­ture Mediter­ranean don­keys are quite hard to come by, but they are per­fect for this kind of ther­apy work be­cause they are just so placid,” said Sara, 48.

“Isla has only been with us five weeks but she’s set­tling in ab­so­lutely fine – her na­ture is just amaz­ing, in fact, we call her Isla Smiler.

“She’s been on a school visit, where ev­ery­one loved her, and we have lots more bookings for Christ­mas par­ties, con­certs and Na­tiv­ity plays com­ing up, which she’ll be at­tend­ing wear­ing lots of trim­mings in­clud­ing her Santa hat and bells.”

Sara spent a long time look­ing for the right minia­ture Mediter­ranean don­key to join her team and found Isla through a spe­cial­ist web­site.

She has been named in mem­ory of seven-year-old Isla Tansey, who lost her life to can­cer ear­lier this year, and whose fam­ily Sara’s an­i­mals have pre- viously worked with.

Her tiny size – Isla has an­other six months to go be­fore she will reach her max­i­mum height of about 32 inches – makes her ideal for vis­it­ing res­i­den­tial homes and hos­pi­tals as she can eas­ily fit into lifts and the bed­rooms of pa­tients who are bed­bound.

And as well as great fun, her vis­its to adults and chil­dren are pro­vid­ing com­fort and help­ing with mem­ory re­call, stim­u­la­tion and mood en­hance­ment.

She de­lighted staff, pa­tients and res­i­dents when she trot­ted into Hinck­ley and Bosworth Com­mu­nity Hos­pi­tal and Home from Home day care, in Hinck­ley, re­cently.

“It’s all about the un­con­di­tional love from an an­i­mal, when they visit there’s no judge­ment. Peo­ple can brush, pet, hug and take pic­tures with them – what­ever they want,” said Sara.

“It’s very emo­tional watch­ing the con­nec­tions de­velop – there’s lots of love, laugh­ter, smiles and joy and for many older peo­ple ther­apy an­i­mals can help bring back mem­o­ries.

“We’ve seen that a lot with for­mer farm­ers and Land Army work­ers.”

An­i­mal ther­apy can also help with co­or­di­na­tion and move­ment through groom­ing and in other cases has helped peo­ple strug­gling with speech as they try to talk to the crea­tures.

Sara also owns other ther­apy ani- mals in­clud­ing Fal­a­bel­las Al­fie and An­gel, Shet­land pony Pin­no­chio, Welsh Sec­tion A horse Izzy and two sheep, Timmy and Tommy.

She has al­ways been pas­sion­ate about an­i­mals and pre­vi­ously worked as a carer, but de­cided to com­bine the two after see­ing the pos­i­tive ef­fect an­i­mals had on one of her clients.

“There was one woman who re­fused to leave her flat, but when I took Al­fie for a visit she en­gaged and we man­aged to get her out for the first time in three years,” she said.

“Then I started to take Al­fie into care homes and it kind of went from there.

“I started do­ing this full-time about 18 months ago and it is get­ting re­ally pop­u­lar.

“It’s won­der­ful to see the re­ac­tions – it just brings such a huge amount of en­joy­ment to the clients, the an­i­mals and me.”

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