A Cazenovia farm is now opening its doors every Saturday to allow everyone — especially children and adults with special needs and the elderly — to come pet, groom and just spend time with its miniature donkeys and baby miniature donkeys. (photo by Jason Emerson)
By Jason Emerson
Equine-assisted therapy has long treated people with disabilities, chronic illnesses and stress. But while people often think of horses as the only hoofed therapy animals around, donkeys – especially miniature donkeys – are also effective therapy animals. And one Cazenovia farm is now opening its doors every Saturday to allow everyone — especially children and adults with special needs and the elderly — to come pet, groom and just spend time with its miniature donkeys and baby miniature donkeys.
“People just don’t understand about donkeys; there’s nothing like them. They’re compassionate, loving, and once they trust you, you’re all set,” said Sara Pushlar, owner of Amore Miniature Donkeys on Fenner Road in Cazenovia. “They’ll come over and put their head on your shoulder; they’re just all love. They are such a stress relief; it’s the best therapy ever.”
Pushlar has been raising miniature donkeys for 17 years. She had horses all her life, but after hurting her back and being unable to ride she met a couple who owned donkeys and “immediately fell in love.” She bought two miniature donkeys from them, and by the end of that week had a total of 15.
“There’s just so many people who call or come over and want to visit and pet the donkeys that I decided I would open one day a week and they could come,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to help handicapped and special needs people, and donkeys are just so friendly.”
Farms and centers across the U.S. and in Europe offer donkey-assisted therapy through formal equine therapeutic riding classes, or through grooming or just stroking a gentle donkey. According to the British-based Donkey Sanctuary, which was founded in 1969 and is the largest of its kind in the world, riding, petting and talking to donkeys can have powerful effects on both children and adults with emotional, behavioral, social and physical needs.
According to the sanctuary’s website, their therapy model focuses on helping children with self-esteem, coping mechanisms, conflict management, empathy and other skills. Interacting with donkeys helps them gain confidence, improve life skills and find a sense of achievement.
Pushlar’s plans are not to create a major therapy center or medical clinic, but simply to allow people — especially children and adults with special needs — to come and “love on the donkeys.”
The Pushlar Farm currently has more than 60 Mediterranean miniature donkeys, including a bunch of babies only two weeks old. People who come to the farm can pet and brush the donkeys, and just enjoy their company, she said.
“More and more, donkeys are being used for therapy animals,” she said. “If you’re stressed out and come out to the paddock, they just know and give you love. It’s such a stress relief. They’re very smart, and they are wonderful with kids.”
Amore Miniature Donkeys is located at the Pushler Farm, 2565 Fenner Road in Cazenovia. Visiting hours are from 1 to 5 p.m. every Saturday. There is a $5 requested donation.
For more information, visit amoredonkeys.com, find them on Facebook or call 315-655-3990.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.