"Petting, scratching, and cuddling a dog could be as soothing to the mind and heart as deep meditation and almost as good for the soul as prayer." — Dean Koontz
Well, Dean, that also goes for chickens!
And here's why. Service animals provide their companions with unlimited benefits. Because we know that our furry and feathered friends just can’t stop loving and giving! Psychologists and disabilities researchers have recorded tremendous positive results when people are paired with therapy pets. The animals, whether service or therapy, give physical support (like guide dogs), emotional support, inspiration through encouragement, and the motivation to tackle life. But non-traditional service animals are an exciting bunch…because they want to be your best friend, too!
Let’s ruffle some feathers and lead a Chubby Cheer for the fowl that have volunteered to become Therapy Animals.
Chickens are providing all of these things to residents living in a nursing facility in Gateshead, England. The senior citizens of Shadon House have something to crow about! The successful program was initiated by Henpower, an arts therapy group who have a clucking good motto, "henergizing older people's lives." Nearly fifty senior citizen facilities have welcomed in the hen therapy program. The results are amazing.Meet the Chickens
Chickens provide affection, purpose and their charming personalities yield a blow to the tragic effects of loneliness. As their website explains, “HenPower cultivates creativity in care settings at a time in life when most people are slowing down, and not stepping into wellies or making masterpieces.”
For most of us, our lives are enriched by our feathered and furry companions – and this relationship is a critical element to building emotional and physical well-being. We know that pets are renowned health boosters. Unfortunately, the often sterile environment in which so many senior citizens are placed (either in facilities or even in their own homes) is devastating. Research has proven that animals eradicate the “loneliness of residents in long-term care facilities…[many] residents in these facilities have a strong life-history of a relationship with pets as an intimate part of their emotional support system, and if given a choice, would continue that relationship.”
Many elderly, especially those from country regions, spent much of their life with livestock as a central element that provided family income and companionship. Non-traditional animals, like horses and chickens, invigorate memories and a new life purpose in these seniors. Victims of loneliness and depression, increasingly removed from interactions due to ill health or mobility restrictions, seniors and disabled persons struggle to feel useful in society. Chickens solve that problem, and what they can do works like magic!
Chickens are uniquely suited to stepping up and serving seniors. Below is a list of poultry pluses—but we know that chickens offer both active and “passive” benefits.
Active Benefits: Chickens are clean animals (they ARE birds) that allow people with limited mobility to get involved in their care. Cleaning water buckets, putting out grain and feeding snacks, and keeping the coop sanitary are all feats that anyone can complete. This gives seniors a new purpose, a sense of accomplishment and a reason to get up and at ‘em! This re-introduction to familiar husbandry is emotionally priceless for those people who grew up with livestock.
Passive Benefits: Unlike dogs and cats, chickens are active and feisty critters. They don’t sit around and they sure don’t look to people to entertain them. Chickens have daily goals and their ambitious minds are hard to hold down. When all the chores are finished, pull up a chair and watch the flock do their thing. These birds provide hours of entertainment and they facilitate social interaction. Yup – who doesn’t want to chat about chickens?
This ain’t Chicken Scratch: The Henpower team (called hensioners) likes to play with words. There’s “‘hensioners’, ‘henthusiasm’, ‘getting the day off to a cracking start’, and the word ‘henpower’ itself.” The Guardian newspaper covered what’s cracking. “But the intent behind it [the wordplay] is serious. A 12-month study of the project by Northumbria University in 2012-13 found that Henpower is improving the health and wellbeing of older people, and reducing depression, loneliness and the need for antipsychotic medication in care homes.” This is good stuff to crow about!
Fantastic fowl – Handsome is as….
Chickens are beautiful and that charisma seeps into everything they do. Roosters watch out for their flock and the ladies will present you with breakfast! With over 300 breeds of birds to choose from, finding your perfect match is easy…but trying to narrow that down will sure be a chicken challenge. It’s always best to try and find some birds looking for homes. Contact local humane societies and farm rescues. They will have some birds that are ready to call your castle their new digs.
Chickens readily adapt to backyards, barnyards and even houses. Here are a few facts that prove why fluffy fowl are irresistible:
- Chickens don’t require unusual effort. They are simple folks. Forget about daily walks or expensive behavior classes – chickens are born with social skills. Chickens love to be with humans and have a unique connection with us. And like humans, these birds are verbal/visual! We have so much in common.
- They do not bite, do not drool, don’t scratch furniture, are small, don't shed —and they have no odor. Chickens can live indoors (they make bird diapers, too).
- Chicken manure is not like a dog’s or cat’s. It is a gardener’s dream and it will get you building your compost bin. Offer some chicken compost to gardening friends. They will be thrilled.
- Chickens rarely trigger allergies. Birds are innately clean, so you won’t have hair all over the cushions. And it just gets better. Chickens are enthusiastic individuals and their independent nature is braced by a persnickety intelligence.
- Caring for chickens boosts the confidence and self-reliance of children, seniors – well…for all of us. The birds scratch up and renew our sense of purpose. Birds empower humans!
The Henpower participants are reveling in their newfound nesting buddies. Happiness pulled together by a feeling of ambition keeps us all youthful (umm, spring chickens?). Henpower is truly astounding for introducing the senior community to the joy of chickens. We know these fowl are delightful and it just makes good sense to spread that info around.
As Grandma Moses said, "If I hadn't started painting, I would have raised chickens." You need to do both!
"We’re quite keen not to promote it as ‘hen therapy’ just because it's so much more than that. It’s sort of all encompassing and encourages.... people to support each other and empower other older people to take up a new interest." Therapist Jos Forester-Melville on Henpower