UC Davis undergraduate, 4th year
Major: Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology
My mom walking Care Bear
For the past two weeks, my fellow undergrad research intern partner, Claire, and I have been working on a presentation together reviewing pig therapy/animal-assisted therapy research and how we can use these findings to shape our own mini pig therapy programs. In scrolling through Google Scholar, we found close to zero articles in which pigs were utilized as a therapeutic resource for human health. Most of the research done on animal-assisted therapy focuses on dogs, though we also found studies that investigated the therapeutic effects of farm animal (cow, goat, horse, etc.) interactions on human participants. It was frustrating to not have a clear model on which to base the development of our own work, but it was also exciting because it meant that we were entering a novel field and paving the way for future studies on the effects of using mini pigs in therapy. Now, we had to present our findings, and that was a whole other story for me…
I have always hated presentations. I was a shy kid: I had trouble looking people in the eye and projecting my voice. As I entered high school, this shyness often manifested itself as social anxiety. My palms got sweaty, my heart raced, and my brain conjured images of worst case scenarios. So, presentations were truly my worst nightmare. What if my voice trembles? What if I forget information? What if they laugh at me?
Over the years, I’ve had enough experience in these situations to know what to expect and how to prepare myself. Despite this, I do still get an anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach. As Claire and I prepared to present to the rest of the team, I suggested that we make the piglets a frozen fruit ice treat to keep our hands and minds busy. As Claire chopped strawberries, I relieved some tension by slamming the frozen bag of fruit on the counter as hard as I could.
Jelly Bean and Romeo enjoying their fruit ice treat
As the minutes ticked by, I recalled advice my mother had given me just the day before when she had come to visit the ranch. We had taken the piglets on a walk and visited the minis, and throughout our journey her face was beaming with joy. At one point though, Care Bear had gotten quite spooked by her, and understandably so! A stranger was taking her out of her stall! I apologized to my mom and assured her that the pigs are incredibly comfortable and affectionate when with familiar faces, worrying that she might think the project unprofessional or might be offended that the pigs weren’t immediately taken with her. My mom, being my mom, did the exact opposite and was very understanding. She waved all of my worries away, saying, “It’s just more information for you guys to learn from! It’s interesting!” Later on, the piglets actually warmed up to her quite nicely, giving her some snout nuzzles in their stall and realizing that she was a friend, not a foe.
My mom was completely right. That is, after all, one of the fundamentals of science. Experiments often go awry, the results are sometimes unexpected, but you must persevere and use that information to inform the next trial.
Jelly Bean blowing some bubbles with her pig snout
I carried these words with me on presentation day. Instead of worrying about everything that could go wrong, I focused on learning from the experience. Claire and I received incredibly helpful feedback from Becca and our team that gave us clear steps to take in pursuing our research question. And, just as I learned that the piglets need a little time to get comfortable, I took our team’s advice during our presentation and learned that we have created a truly safe and supportive environment here.
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!