Kingston, Nova Scotia — Animals have the ability to help heal humans. This is a belief that Lisa Simpson from Kingston, Nova Scotia holds close to her heart. Having grown up on a multi-generational mixed grain farm where she currently works, Simpson has always felt comfortable around animals.
A number of years ago, she began caring for stray cats in her community. Sometimes this was as simple as giving them a place to live, but other times it involved a significant amount of patience, care, and love to nurse them back to health. As she began caring for these animals, Simpson noticed improvements to her own mental health and overall mood.
From her personal experience came the idea of opening a wellness centre that would provide animal assisted therapy for “individuals that don’t necessarily fit in with traditional therapies,” explains Simpson. Still in its early planning stages, the Above & Beyond Animal Rehab Centre is set to open within the next year. The centre is the recipient of a $2,500 grant from the Bayer Fund’s Canada’s Farmers Grow Communities Program (CFGC). “The funds have gone towards operational, like paying for utilities and getting the facility ready to open as soon as possible, so the animals and patients can begin their healing journey,” adds an elated Simpson.
In animal assisted therapy, the patient develops a special bond with the animal. This can improve one’s self-esteem, emotion regulation, and communication skills. Patients will receive a great deal of comfort from the animals, while connecting with a licensed therapist.
Traditionally, dogs are the most common animal used in animal assisted therapy. At Above & Beyond, Simpson hopes to have a variety of animals available for patients to bond with and care for, including cats, horses, and goats.
While there is still a lot of research to be done about the therapeutic benefits of animals, most experts will agree that being around a pet, or animal, increases feel-good hormones and decreases stress.
The therapy that will be offered at Above & Beyond is not to be confused with trained therapy animals. The idea is to offer sessions lead by licensed professionals, in a non-traditional setting, with animals present. Another form of care provided will be the opportunity for patients to care for these animals, by feeding, grooming, and bathing them on a regular basis. This gives people a sense of purpose and helps them form a safe and meaningful bond.
Simpson’s mission is to provide hope, comfort, and healing to her community with the new wellness centre.
“Traditional therapies aren’t for everyone,” she says. “And that’s okay—I just want to be able to offer a safe alternative for those who need or want it. I’ve found great comfort and healing in caring for animals, and I want others to have the same positive experiences.”