TORONTO – A shaggy black miniature horse is trotting around a senior center in Alberta to prove that good things really come in small packages.
Diablo is a six year old horse of therapy and she and her owners are dedicated to spreading joy.
Diablo has been visiting seniors at Willow Creek Continuing Care Center for a few years, making trips every two months to offer company to residents with dementia, vision or hearing problems.
Marlys Bingham is a person who appreciates your visits. She has dementia, but is able to stay alert and remember more memories while spending time with the little horse.
"Everyone loves a pony," she said. "Until me."
Dana Cummings, owner of Diablo, told CTV Calgary that “Marlys is just a perfect example today of a farm-dweller who has … memories come back to her from having animals and having her horse and pony (when Diablo is around)). "
Many of the residents come from agriculture, Cummings said.
"They are retired now so they no longer have the opportunity to see their horses or animals."
She is loved by those who feel isolated due to loss of hearing or sight – the miniature horse stands patiently while the residents give her scratches and pats, allowing them to stimulate their senses through the power of touch.
"She must be well trained, that," Bingham observed during one of Diablo's visits. "With all of us around, she didn't worry."
Josee Meston, the recreation therapist who is present during Diablo's visits, said that "as with any therapy animal, the decrease in anxiety and depression can only be seen from smiles on (residents) faces."
She added that "residents feel (these positive effects) for days later."
Diablo was not always as polite as she is now. Cummings said she was a little difficult when he sought her out. But her calm demeanor now makes her an ideal pet therapy, a role she will hopefully play for many years.
Miniature horses usually live for 30 years, so Diablo has plenty of time to keep bringing smiles to the elderly.