February 22, 2017
Mini horse, pony in sneakers make nursing home calls
Patients in wheelchairs and using walkers fussed over Duncan and Moon Pie, stroking their manes and lightly sweeping their fingers over their fuzzy noses.
The pair – a miniature horse and a Shetland pony – are completely unaware of their impact on nursing home and rehabilitation center patients in need of cheering up.
“We need things to change our day,” said smiling Bobby Ott, a patient in therapy.
“I’m in therapy. A lot of people are past therapy. So what do they do now? … They wait for the horses to show up.”
Residents here count the days to Duncan’s visits. On visitation day, they watch at the front windows for Shawn Emmons’ horse trailer to pull up outside the Clements Bridge Road facility, according to Deptford Center’s executive director of recreation Paige Doumenis.
“They can’t wait for him to come,” she said.
The therapy collaboration between Duncan’s owner Emmons, Centers Health Care and a Robbinsville Police officer, is just about a year old.
On Tuesday, Emmons and Moon Pie owner Colleen Langeveld, both of Jackson, visited Centers Health Care’s Deptford, Hammonton and Mount Laurel facilities.
Moon Pie, 14, and Duncan, 5, live in Emmons’ backyard in Jackson, with two goats and a Great Dane.
The relationship between the animals fascinated Ott.
“He’s adorable, I wish I had a little farm,” Ott said, rolling toward Duncan in a wheelchair.
The animals are brothers from another mother, Langeveld said. They prefer to spend time together, but they bicker like siblings, she said.
Langeveld and Emmons drove to Tennessee to pick up Moon Pie just six weeks ago.
The animals are already wearing matching black-and-white lace up sneakers.
The sneakers – meant for Build-a-Bear teddy bears – keep them from slipping over tile floors at the nursing homes, rehab facilities and homes for children with autism they regularly visit.
Duncan has four sets of shoes for center visits all over the state, Emmons said.
The animals bring out memories in patients, Emmons said.
Alice Weber, wrapped in a crocheted shawl, sat next to Duncan, running her fingers lightly through his dark, soft mane. She grew up on a farm. She told Emmons she’d feed the animals half a carrot, but won’t feed them the rest until they give her a kiss.
“They have history,” Emmons said.
“They either rode horses or grew up around farms … the smell of a horse brings back so many memories.”
Doumenis believes the animals awaken something inside her patients, stirring their spirits.
“They’re here, they’re depressed. They’ve lost so much independence,” Doumenis said.
During Duncan’s first visit, she and some patients were reduced to tears, overwhelmed with joy, she remembered.
“I was so worried because everyone was crying,” she said, smiling.
“When do you get to do this when you’re not a kid?”