Lessons with Longears
Horse and Rider|Winter 2020
These miniature donkeys are helping teach big lessons.
JESSICA MORRIS

Esther and Esau are eager to spend time with Latham Centers resident Diane.

Dogs and horses may be the typical stars of most animal-assist-ed therapy programs, but at the Latham Centers residential program for adults with disabilities, it’s donkeys who are changing lives.

The Massachusetts-based organization provides care and support for those with complex special needs and specializes in serving adults with Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS)—a genetic disorder that can cause developmental disabilities, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and an insatiable appetite that can lead to obesity. These challenges require individuals with PWS to constantly exercise remarkable self-control in order to lead healthy, positive lives.

In 2008, Latham Centers discovered an unlikely ally for those with PWS: miniature donkeys. Dr. Janice Forster, a renowned neuropsychiatrist and expert in PWS treatment, suggested the idea to Latham Centers based on the success of donkey-assisted therapy programs in Germany. Within a year, Latham Centers purchased a residential home with property for livestock in East Sandwich, Massachusetts, and adopted six miniature donkeys. Although the donkeys did not come to the center with formal therapy training, they were gentle, friendly, and up to the task. After a few months of training by Latham Centers donkey trainer Kristiane Thompson, the longears proved they would shine in their new roles as therapy animals.

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