Animal assisted therapy
The Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem has become a main attraction in Jerusalem with more than 500,000 visitors a year. More important, the zoo is one of the only locations in the country that all the population visits, meet and feel welcome. On the zoological side of the zoo, it has become an educational center with 100,000 students of different ages coming yearly to learn about the zoo. From kindergarten to university, students come to the zoo for a variety of activities, highlighting conservation, ecology and raising awareness of the importance of nature preservation.
In the past few years the use of the zoo's animals for therapy with children from special education classes has been increasing. As a result, the zoo, in an effort to increase this project and to further help the community, decided to focus on this subject and two of the senior staff were sent to college to study.
Since 1998 we have been sponsoring the special education project with animals. The children participating come from different backgrounds and are affected by autism, deafness, learning disabilities and mental problems. this is a cross cultural project, with Arab and Jewish children participating. The demand for these activities has been growning yearly. Since this is a non-profit project, this project is in severe need of further funding.
Main features of the Special Education Project
These children have special needs, especially emotional ones. With the animal therapy we provide, there is great emotional support. The therapy with animals includes many aspects. In order to form a connection with the animal both concentration and self discipline is needed. This is not a verbal process, but one of emotion and trust. The child needs to take responsibility and adapt to the animal’s needs which is part of a growing process. The child meets the good side of the animal, feeds, pets and cleans it and therefore does things for others which up to now has only been done by others for him. The therapy gives a sensation of empowerment by allowing the child to determine for the animal what it will eat and how it will be housed. During the therapy the child must control many urges, especially violent ones, which helps him deal with the real world.
The sessions are an ongoing thing which involves a regular connection with the animals. The activities in the zoo are something outside of the child’s everyday world. It is different in every possible way from the other environment in which the child lives. The child derives happiness and security from knowing that the animals wait for him every week at the zoo. The physical contact with the animals gives an answer to the common need for contact which does not always come from the family or environment in which the child normally finds himself. During the activities with the animals, meaningful subjects raise their head which can effect the children's lives, such as sexuality, reproduction, family and caring for offspring. The child sees the reproduction processes, mating, preparation for birth, birth, breast feeding and protection of offspring which may all help the child cope with the hard reality of daily life.
Why the Zoo?
The zoological collection creates unusual opportunities for activities with different experiences and a diversity of contact. Varying activities and experiences that no usual petting zoo can give like contact with an elephant or with small exotic animals and husbandry of the ponies, goats, sheep, chickens and parrots make the activities exciting and especially attractive.
The visit to the zoo is a special experience for the children who especially anticipate it. The arrival at the zoo, even if it is a weekly event, is a breaking of routine which is for most of the children difficult. The children feel special importance. The activity area is almost limitless in an environment which is friendly and soothing and safe.
The children go into many animal houses, gardens and exhibits from behind the scenes and the meeting with the professional keepers enriches their activities.
There are many options for different activities. In every one of the options mentioned above, a wide variety of animals can be chosen depending on the desire of the child.
Framework of activities:
These activities are done in small groups on a weekly basis for at least one school year. This is done to create a program that the child can depend on to create confidence within the child who may have experienced many separations, leavings and disappointments. The sessions are an intimate experience with a familiar guide from the zoo along with a trusted figure who works with the children the whole year through. In many cases the children need help getting to the zoo. All participants are given a personal pass which allows them free entry to the zoo with a parent.