NY nonprofit spreads tranquility with donkeys

PERU, N.Y. (WCAX) Therapy animals are used to help calm the nerves of those around them. While you mostly see dogs or cats fill that need, there are other animals used for therapy purposes like ducks, pigs, and even rats.
Channel 3's Kelly O'Brien found quite the unique therapy in New York's North Country.

Kickin' up Dust Farm in the town of Peru is home to many animals. You'll find horses, alpacas -- even peacocks. But in 2008 owners Holly and Kenneth Besaw decided to offer something more.

"They're a little unique because when people see them come into their rooms or children come around them, they're not your ordinary, average everyday run-of-the-mill animal," said Kenneth Besaw.

Miniature donkeys are helping to put others at ease. "People would say, 'I can't believe how gentle they are, how kind they are,'" Besaw said.

In their ten years running the nonprofit Thera-Pets, the donkeys have consoled people at nursing homes and sites of school mass shootings, like Sandy Hook in Connecticut.

"They have a sense, they naturally do. There's a sense of who needs what attention," Besaw said.

These donkeys are not certified therapy animals but they trust that the Besaws and their volunteers won't put them in harms way. "Trust me, they have come in contact with a lot of people throughout the years," Besaw said.

But there are rules for people to follow, like to watch your toes and never feed them from your fingers."These sometimes look like carrots and we don't ever want anyone to lose a carrot," Besaw said.

He says the group's work helps more than just the person in need, but also the animals. "They just just as much joy from it as the people do," Besaw said. And the people who have experienced this unique form of therapy leave just a little bit better than when they started. "By the time they leave here they're hugging and kissing and holding them and they lose all of the fear."