The Biblical Zoo’s center for animal-assisted therapy for children was established with the support of the Lotte Salzberger Foundation. The field of animal-assisted therapy is innovative, and at the zoo’s project, over 500 children with special needs, children and adults with disabilities, and children and youth at-risk participate. Participants visit the zoo to enjoy weekly encounters with animals and a zoo professional who is specially trained for the program.
The weekly gatherings offer an up close and personal encounter with social and friendly animals, creating an ongoing relationship with them and a sense of connection and acceptance for the participants. They can touch and pet the animals, they learn how to care for the animals, to feed them, and to clean their enclosures. The need for physical touch and connection is a basic human need. The knowledge that the animal is awaiting their visit provides the motivation needed for the work to acquire individual and group skills. Building a relationship with an animal requires, among other things, perseverance, concentration, dealing with frustrations, and self-confidence, as well as sensitivity skills, which are built through the relationship-building process. The animals are non-judgmental and are ready for the connection, which continues to grow throughout the year.
The participants enjoy a special experience, which offers them a sense of pride and joy. The experiences with the animals remain with the participants well beyond their time at the zoo. Participants internalize the sense of success, concern, and empathy, and the ability to provide the warmth and support which they received from the animals and apply them within their personal lives.
For more information, please contact VeeVee Merlin Knopp, the Zoo’s Animal-assisted Therapy Coordinator, at:
Photo: VeeVee Merlin Knopp