Donkey visits work wonders for hospital patients and care home residents
When Sarah McPherson was supporting her mother Patricia Little through the later stages of dementia, she discovered one thing that really brought a smile back to those with the condition – donkeys.
She found that the donkeys she kept at her home in Hempnall, south of Norwich, had a magical effect better than any medicine.
“The relaxed nature of the donkeys made her calm and it made her smile which was something that had become quite rare,” she said.
Following her mother’s death earlier this year Ms McPherson, 54, resolved to let others enjoy the therapeutic benefits of her four donkeys.
She set up a social enterprise called Mini Donkeys for Wellbeing, also known as Mini Donks.
Now, with the help of 12 volunteers, she takes them to care homes across Norfolk and Suffolk.
On a recent visit to Kingsley Healthcare-run Heron Lodge care home, in Norwich Road, Wroxham, delighted residents could not believe it when they came face-to-face with donkeys indoors.
Operations manager Gina Dennison said: “Many of our residents are living with dementia and pet therapy is known to be a tonic for them – but you are usually talking about dogs and cats.
“Residents had the biggest smiles on their faces when they saw the donkeys.”
The donkeys refused to go up in the lift - so to enable resident Patricia Simpson to see them from her upstairs bedroom, staff positioned a mirror at an angle so she could see them in the garden.
“It took a lot of running around and staff shouting: ‘Left a bit, right a bit,’” said Ms Dennison.
“One of our residents who is German and no longer speaks, burst into speech and began talking about the donkeys.
“To see her face light up was amazing. This was an emotional moment to witness.”
Ms McPherson said: “It is tremendous to see how the donkeys spark so many memories when we go around the care homes.
“It brings back memories of donkey rides as children and, in Norfolk and Suffolk, many people come from a farming background and may have had a donkey.”
To contact Ms McPherson about donkey visits, call her on 07810 385633.
Patients and staff at Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust (NCHC) were also joined by some unusual guests last week.
Miniature donkeys, Pixie and Bo Peep, visited the Norwich Community Hospital, in Bowthorpe Road, to meet patients from Beech and Alder Ward as part of a wellbeing activity, provided by Mini Donks.
The crowd gathered on the lawn outside Woodlands House with tea and biscuits, all eager to stroke and have a picture with the donkeys. Samuel Scott, volunteer co-ordinator at NCHC, said: “It was a wonderful experience and has been great to see the patients up and about, and beaming. One patient shocked us all by walking from the ward [around 100 metres]. They definitely wouldn’t have done that if it hadn’t been for the donkeys. This visit wouldn’t have been possible without the support of an excellent group of volunteers, who helped facilitate the event.”