ANIMALS AS THERAPY
Ok all those reading this blog hands up who has an animal, a cat, dog, hamster, bird, horse or chicken etc?
I am a firm believer that animals can help us when we are suffering from a chronic illness like Multiple Sclerosis, and other long term diseases.
I needed to find something to get me up in the morning. That was my challenge in life, to get up. Everyday come rain, snow or sunshine. I knew without it I was doomed or lost. Yes I had a hubby but he could take care of himself and was away a lot with his job, so I was left on my own.
I had my trusted Lucy dog who was always by my side and I knew that she needed a walk, but to me it was earlier that i needed to get up.
I had my first chicken when I was 10 years old. Sandy. We lived in Malta at the time, and I used to care for her and only I was allowed to collect her egg everyday. The memories of her came back to me, and the idea formed in my mind well why not have a few chickens. So that is what happened.
I purchased four hybrids, and it was a lot of fun but also hard work. Every morning at dawns light I had to get up and let them out, feed them and clean them. It seemed an endless chore but I stuck with it and soon was rewarded with lovely fresh eggs.
Now it wasnt the cleaning, or the feeding that ended in me having to move them on, it was their noise. They constantly argued with each other, and when they were ready to lay an egg would let off the worse screeching noise you could imagine. I had no idea at the time that one of my new symptoms of MS was going to be hypercusis!
Suddenly from no where their noise became upsetting, painful to me and when they were really loud, I felt irrationally angry and tense. I hated the sound they made, and instead of being therapy for me they became my own worse nightmare a living hell of NOISE. Amplified so loud my head hurt. I spoke to my neighbour and she said she could barely hear them, which shocked me, as to me they were like having army manoeuvres in the garden with tanks and guns it was so loud.
I really tried to keep going but in the end it felt as though my ears were going to bleed with the pain of their noise, and sadly my hubby moved them on for me, they went to one of his friends who had a huge house and garden and chickens, and they went on to live good lives but I felt I had failed them.
I took a break from fowl, I felt so depressed over it, and it did make me sink into a period of dark despair. What else was this disease going to take away from me. I still had my beloved Lucy dog who seemed to sense that noise was not what mummy needed and she never really barked and was very quiet and calm next to me. Now at this time even the television became a chore, my husband talking too loud, so many things would set me off, and I realised that I did in deed have an issue.
I spoke to my neurologist and he told me I was suffering from hypercusis, and the best way to deal with it was to slowly bring sound back into my life and set a level I could cope with. Over time I managed to achieve this, and as long as i wasn’t exposed for too long a level over that, I could cope.
Now back to animal therapy. In view of this in my mind I thought ok, so if i start with young chicken, a chick perhaps this will help me get used to their sounds on a lower volume, so we purchased a lovely selection of pure breeds, Poland, Dutch Bantams, Pekins chicks just a few days old. They were so tiny and sweet, I fell in love with them, and they slowly grew up strong and well and yes I did get used to their noise as it started low and my brain adjusted.
I become obsessed by chickens. My husband loved them too and I found looking after the chicks a new therapy. Being able to care for something that needed me totally. I had to get up, there was no denying that fact they don’t clean and feed themselves.
My house become a nursery. We had incubators in the spare room, and I bought special equipment for them to make sure they had the best chance of life. My kitchen island in the middle of the room had 2 large dog cages on top and many a chick was brought up in there. I know its like mad yeh! I started my own incubating business and helped others by hatching rare chicks. My success rate of survival was nearly always 100%.
I even had to become a chicken vet, and learn fast on how to deal with weak chicks and chicks in trouble. Its amazing what you can find on Google and youtube. It had gotten me out of a few sticky spots when dealing with hatching chicks, some hatch so quickly and others can take a day of anxiety and waiting. Like being in a maternity ward waiting for babies to be born. Watching chicks trying to hatch was an amazing experience, and seeing them when they had hatched slowly dry out and get stronger and stronger, and look for their mummy, for food. A chick fowl is one of the only birds which hatches and is totally self reliant. It soon learns how to drink and eat. Its truly amazing to see them.
The chick above in the egg was in dire straits, it was in breech position and could not tap its way out. The experts say leave them to die as they will be weak, but I couldn’t do that. I spent hours with this chick and slowly slowly peeled it out. This was a beautiful Buttercup fowl they are pretty rare and really I didn’t want to loose it. Below is an image of it all grown up. Yes it was a boy but being rare he got a good home with another breeder who needed new stock.
I know I did go silly, and it finally drained me so I had to cut back. BUT I loved it and really missed it when Mike died. I could never have done it without his help.
Even Lucy my Jack Russell got into it and would protect the chicks and even watched them in the incubator as she could hear them in their eggs chirping.
Life was just one round of cleaning and feeding but boy I felt good, yes tired exhausted but my mental health was great I could really cope with my illness at this time was still not diagnosed.
I actually felt useful again. Needed, I had to be the protector of so many little creatures. I loved them all, and to be honest hands on heart even the boys got homes. Mike would travel miles to take a cockerel to its new home. The image below is of Mike with his favorite Sid. Sid loved Mike he was a frizzle Poland. Such a character I mean how could you be depressed with him about he made us laugh he would follow Mike around the garden, come in the house and sit with him.
Having the chickens was great therapy for Mike too as he suffered with COPD and the chickens were helping him too. They all loved him. I would often find Mike asleep in the garden surrounded by young birds. They seemed to know he was safe. Mike never got fed up of them he really did love them all.
We even had broody mothers hens that decide they just have to be mothers and would sit for 21 days on eggs even if they were fertile or not. I would never allow that as it wasn’t in their best interests as they would get depleted and it can affect their health.
A broody hen is a force to be reckoned with. Having chickens sure made me realise just how human they really were, as they had traits which were very similar to us when it came to family.
They made great mums, had a huge desire to have offspring, and would protect them to the death. They would always feed their chicks before themselves. In the natural world they would spend hours unearthing tiny grubs, and would give each chick something to eat.
They would teach them how to survive I watched them for hours. Showing them how to bathe (in dirt), and even when the time came they would distance themselves from their brood and let them cope on their own, I even saw a hen show her chicks at 10 weeks to fly from the bench under a tree to the branches to stay safe.
When you witnessed these things, you were in awe of the experience. Watching them for even a short time, I would forget my illness, would just sit quietly and watch these mothers busy with their chicks.
Below is a frizzle Poland hen, these are not known to go broody but oh dear she had to have chicks. She made her nest very comfortable and had some lovely chicks and was fierce in her protection of them. I knew I had to handle her carefully as a peck off an angry mother is not welcome.
It was truly an amazing site and one I shall always remember. I felt privileged to be involved. The hens never attacked me they instinctively knew I was there to help them. All my mothers were well fed and when the chicks arrived I would supply really good quality food for them even scrambled eggs, and the chicks would grow strong and healthy. Too be honest over the years I had broodies I honestly don’t remember ever have a chick die.
Sadly when Mike died I had to make a lot of sacrifices. All my brooding equipment went to a friend, and I had to stop having my chickens. It was the saddest day for me when they all went to a new home. I knew it was the end of an era but I couldn’t cope with them on my own. I did go into depression, not only did I loose the love of my life, I had lost the link that kept me sane and active. Life would never be the same again.
I am now in sheltered accommodation and have my memories, but I believe all my chickens over the years slowed down my progression. Having a reason to get up and care for something was the best decision I ever made. Yes my beautiful garden went from green to desert as they stripped it but spending hours outside with them, was the best medicine I could have had. I do miss them terribly.
I still have my Lucy dog, and I still take her out everyday if its not raining on my scooter. I have my 2 cats but they are more independent and only want me when they see me for food.
If you are reading this with a chronic illness believe me when I say this, having something to care for, get up for is the best medicine ever. I know some will have children, but if you don’t, and your not working if you can find something even a hamster, because the rewards are amazing.
The rewards for me going through all those photographs, watching countless videos of the mums with their chicks still makes me feel good about myself. I know that period in my life was my life saver. And to some extent Mikes too.
I know my two daughters both had health issues and they have had horses from foals. Their horses have kept them going and active. Even my younger daughter was encouraged to ride to build up her core muscles. Their horses have kept them going without a doubt.
My eldest was bed ridden with M.E. After years of hard work and therapy she could finally ride again. So very proud of her, from totally bedridden for a long time, she worked hard and with the aid of her partner and her beautiful Spirit she started to ride again. To this day she is still riding and has her beloved Spirit. We agreed without him she would never be in the place she is right now, which is as a successful business women running her own cleaning business.
My youngest daughter sadly also has some bad health issues and the one thing that keeps her going is her love for Art and Crafts, and her beloved Star. Sadly at this time she isn’t well enough to ride, but still tends to her horse to keep her active. Without Star she would probably have been bed ridden.
Animals are amazing. Now they have become a huge part of our lives. They have been guiding people for years who have no sight, dogs were used in the war, as were horses, a lot of disabled people have trained assistant dogs. Dogs are now being used to detect cancer.
Even chickens have a place in therapy. I know of places where they are used for patients with dementia. The chickens give great pleasure to people.
I hope you have enjoyed my blog. Even writing it was therapeutic for me as i remembered so many things that I had done over the last few years, and having chickens enabled me to meet lots of lovely people who I would never have met had I not had them.
This is Ginger. A frazzled frizzle who should never have survived, but she did, and went on to lay eggs and is still alive today. I believe her age must be five now. A frazzled frizzle has been wrongly bred by mixing two frizzle genes male and female. Her feathers would literally twist off and break. At one point she had to wear her coat to protect her back from sunburn. She wore it with pride, and this is her modelling it.
My birds were all FREE RANGE happy birds, who gave a lot of joy to many who met them. They may be chickens, but they have brains, and instincts no difference to us. They have hierarchy, bosses, they trust us, and reward us with love and eggs. I mean how could you resist this cute face.
When you buy your eggs in future, spare a thought for the hen who laid the egg. She has been denied her rights to have a normal life, of foraging, bathing in dirt, becoming a mother, just so that we may have eggs on toast for breakfast. Only ever buy FREE RANGE.
Remember chickens are for life, not just for eggs.