PERU — Butternut Ridge Farm in Peru is home to many animals, but perhaps most notable are the Rev. Dr. Kenneth Parker's miniature donkeys.
Every Saturday, children with a variety of conditions, including autism, Down syndrome, spina bifida and hyperactivity, journey to the farm to take part in Parker's Thera-Pets Program.
They learn about the donkeys, groom them and frolic with them.
Parker said the small, furry donkeys seem to have a calming effect on the children — he encourages the kids to talk to the animals about anything on their minds.
"These kids, like all of us, need someone they can trust and open up to," he said. "We have found there is something about miniature donkeys that is so gentle and loving,"
'SLICE OF HEAVEN'
Shelley Provost brings her 5-year-old son, Devin, to the farm every other weekend. She said interacting with the donkeys — as well as with the other children — has been good for her son, who has sensory issues.
Devin, as have other youngsters, has chosen a donkey that he considers his own and grooms it each time he visits.
"He might not remember which feet his shoes go on, but he remembers his donkey's name," Provost said.
Parker and his wife, Helle, have about 30 miniature donkeys on the farm, as well as an abundance of other animals, including peacocks, geese, ducks, chickens and a baby pot-bellied pig.
While the children are always under adult supervision, they are encouraged to roam about the small farm's barn and fenced-in pasture, as well as to feed the fish and ducks in the Parkers' duck pond.
"It's like a little slice of heaven," Provost said.
TO GIVE BACK
To spread the word about the program, Dr. Parker recently held a Bring a Friend Day, encouraging his regular guests to invite others to share in the experience.