March 19, 2013

Animals offer comfort, healing in Newtown, Sandy Hook

PERU — Three miniature donkeys — Celeste, Freedom and Cleo — brought joy to a community grieving those who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“They walked right into the children’s classrooms,” marveled Judy Sims, director of the Children’s Adventure Center in Sandy Hook, Conn. “We just loved it.”

The furry, long-eared donkeys, who live on Butternut Farm in Peru, are part of Thera-Pets, a nonprofit ministry of animal therapy.

The Rev. Dr. Ken Parker and his volunteers take them to nursing homes, hospitals and other places; at the farm, there are programs for children with special needs and also those who are grieving.


In Connecticut, accompanied by a Thera-Pets team, Celeste, Freedom and Cleo stood patiently for petting and hugs.

“It was very peaceful,” volunteer SaeJin Trombley said. “They knew what they had to do.”

Thera-Pets visited the preschool and four churches earlier this month; the delight the donkeys and volunteers brought has stayed with the people there.

“The whole group was so outreaching and caring,” Sims said in a phone interview Monday.

The donkeys seemed to sense the pain the people still feel there, said Jackie Douglass, another volunteer.

She remembers how one took the initiative to approach a woman, she said.

“‘You knew I needed you, didn’t you?’” she remembered the woman saying to the donkey.

“Over and over again the donkeys seemed to know,” said Candyce Trombley, SaeJin’s mom.

One woman told the volunteers that her experience with the donkeys was the best day of her life, Douglass said.

“Many of us needed and continue to need reassurance and comfort,” Sims wrote afterward in a letter of thanks to Thera-Pets.

“Animals have a way of giving us that unconditional gift of love and sensitivity that can help us in our healing process.”

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