GLASTONBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — Some say there’s nothing like the special bond between humans and animals, which is why a unique program in Connecticut is bringing the farm to seniors and smiles to their faces.
The traveling petting zoo is called Farm on Wheels and was founded by Kelly Cronin. At a recent visit to a senior home in Glastonbury, the residents weren’t shy about getting up close and personal with the animals.
“We brought two mini pigs — a baby pig and a bigger one — calf, sheep goats, ducks, rabbits, a miniature horse, a miniature donkey,” said Cronin.
The seniors don’t just get to see the animals. They also get to interact with them.
“One by one we’ll take them to each resident,” Cronin explained. “They can hold them, pet them, [and} ask questions about them.”
For many of the seniors, the animals bring back old memories.
“A lot of the residents have grown up on farms, so it’s a great opportunity for them to relive some of what they’ve done in the past,” Cronin said.
She says the interaction with the animals visibly brightens the seniors’ spirits.
“We’ve seen tears of joy,” Cronin recalled. “We’ve had workers who work at the facility come up to us and say, ‘Mr. Smith has never come out before. He’s been here three years. He heard the animals were coming.;”
“I just find it distracting from the everyday boredom,” said The Hearth at Glastonbury resident Mary Ambrose.
“It is a big change of pace,” agreed resident Marilyn Gerling.
Research shows animal therapy can benefit the elderly. One study found just 15 minutes of bonding with an animal promotes hormonal changes in the brain that reduce stress.
“To me it was very calming,” described resident Nancy Pfister.
And there’s no doubt the animals today are a hit.
“Oh I like the gray rabbit,” said resident Phyllis Tribuzio.
“Well I love animals so this tops everything,” added resident Carole Langan.
“They give up a lot of independence when they move into a facility like this so we want to provide enough opportunities for them to be learning something, trying different experiences, and if they can’t get up and go to a farm then we’re going to bring the farm to them,” explained Katrina Reynolds, the activities director for The Hearth at Glastonbury.
For many, this day will leave a lasting impression.
“I didn’t know this was going to be as special as it was,” Tribuzio explained.
It’s a special day with some special new friends. Cronin also offers after school programs and summer camps for kids through her non-profit program Kelly’s Kids. She says the animals help improve their self-esteem, responsibility and behavior.