UC Davis undergraduate, 4th year
Major: Environmental Science and Management
Becca with Mary and Memphis
While I have loved every second of my online research and experimental design set up, I craved the tangible gratification similar to that of Nora and Claire’s work with the piglets, or Dalia and Elizabeth’s with the garden construction. Therefore, with the creative freedom and trust given to each of us by Becca, I took it upon myself to find some animals that would be not only a productive extension of my project, but work as an addition to our research program as a whole.
After a myriad of google searches and facebook posts, I came across a miniature horse rescue in the Southern California area named SoCal Mini Horse Sanctuary, a horse oasis outside of Palm Springs covered top to bottom in the cutest minis you’ve ever seen. While I fell in love with just about every horse on their website, I was particularly drawn to a group of miniature donkeys. Their big ears and thoughtful eyes evoked what felt to me like a therapeutic response, even through the computer screen. I immediately sent them to Becca, who fell in love at first sight, as well.
Fast forward to this last week, Becca invited me to join her on a trip to Palm Springs to meet the mini donkeys. Crossing my fingers that my desires of animals for my project would come to fruition, we boarded the plane headed to SoCal to get a feel for our potential therapeutic friends Mary, Memphis, and Daisy, your modern donkey family of mama, son, and auntie, respectively.
In the blazing Palm Springs summer heat, Becca and I arrived at the sanctuary, bubbling with excitement to meet our potential mini friends. After some introductions, we quickly felt connected to these animals. With their soft and sweet demeanors, I felt increasingly aware of my own behaviors, and attentive to how they would be perceived by these little creatures. While I wanted to love all over them right away, I knew slow and intentional care would be best received by the donkeys as we earned each others’ trust. Mary, the beloved mama donkey of Memphis, the sweet outgoing baby, took the most time to warm up. Given her past of neglect, it was understandable that she needed some time to trust, but her ability to do so was inspiring, and I knew it would be valuable in what we are hoping to accomplish in our program. I was personally grateful for her ability to accept strangers and allow us to touch and interact with her baby, Memphis.
Memphis. Don’t get me started on baby Memphis. He is a bundle of joy, energy, and fluff. He loves to nibble on your shoes, rile up the other minis, and get all the love and attention he possibly can. Becca seemed to have a particular connection with both Mary and Memphis, as she related to the mother-child relationship dynamic. The sanctuary as a whole was specifically keen on keeping the mother and child together, as that relationship is invaluable for further trust and affection. Mary and Memphis had a very special connection, one in which is also transferable to relatable human connections, that may then open up a vulnerability in our therapeutic practices that would be more difficult without such animal examples.
Me and Daisy
Personally, I connected most with Daisy, Mary’s best friend and Memphis’ aunt by choice. She had a bravery and tolerance that I have not seen in many animals (or people for that matter!). While Mary had a more introverted personality and Memphis very outgoing, she had a calm and gentle soul that felt wise and maternal. The owners of the sanctuary explained that she helped bring Mary out of her shell, and acted almost as another mother to Memphis, standing over him as he slept in his first months of life. The concept of this chosen family is yet another point of relatability, as not all people have the traditional parent roles in their life. Seeing such a beautiful connection in nature between Memphis and Daisy demonstrated that such chosen parents and families are not so uncommon, and maybe having a nontraditional family makeup can be demonstrated in our program as more of a point of strength than weakness.
During this process, I am reminded of not only the comfort and calmness with which such animals bring, but how truly unique and personable they can be. The stark differences between each donkey, their styles of relationships and trust, amidst their inherently loving demeanors, creates a point of transferability that allows folks to relate to. In seeing Mary overcome her shyness, or Memphis demonstrating his playfulness, one can see themselves and feel inspired by their ability to be vulnerable and trusting, despite their personal setbacks. This is why animal intervention techniques are so valuable- they offer the acting out of personal characteristics and relationship dynamics that create an environment of vulnerability.
I can’t wait to (hopefully!) move forward with our donkey friends, and am infinitely grateful for even the short moments we have spent together thus far. Stay tuned, and cross your fingers for more donkey content to come!
Daisy and I taking a nap in the hot Palm Springs sun
Green Care Blog
Here you can find blog posts from each Green Care Lab intern. We'll be talking about our research process, the benefits of Green Care therapy, and sharing pictures of our work. Follow along with us!