The Animal Assited Therapy program has been operational for some years and serves approximately 70 groups annually. Participants suffer from a wide-range of physical and cognitive challenges, including autism and other developmental disabilities, deafness, learning disabilities, behavioral and mental problems. This cross cultural project includes participants from all of Jerusalem’s diverse communities - Jewish, Christian and Muslim, both secular and orthodox, from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, of various ages, and with disabilities of varying degrees.
The Program makes a difference in the lives of these children by providing them with both essential emotional support and an opportunity to develop non-cognitive skills such as concentration, self-discipline, and responsibility. Forming a connection with the animals is not a verbal process, but one of emotion and trust. Children learn to act responsibly by adapting to the animal’s needs which, in turn, boosts their confidence to perform tasks independently. Physical contact with the animals fulfills the need for personal connection which, sadly, is not always present in family situations. In addition, a zoological collection creates unusual opportunities for varying activities and experiences that no usual petting zoo can give.
Program activities are conducted in small groups on a weekly basis because regular meetings and activities significantly increase the prospect of successful treatment. The same counselor remains with each group for at least one school year, providing the intimacy and continuity which is key to the program’s success. Children who may have experienced many separations and disappointments can now depend on a trusted figure who works with them the whole year through. Counselors work closely with a psychologist in order to ensure a high level of professionalism. In light of the success of the project in the last several years, the demand for these activities has grown and a new trend has emerged where even groups of adults are able to benefit from the Program.