• Stuart Benson

Emotional support ... donkeys?

Willowpark Farm helps mothers, children in women’s shelter

When Sarah Harris purchased an old homestead property in Edelweiss in September 2020, she did so with the intention of creating a space for women and children dealing with trauma by creating a not-for-profit “emotional bonding garden.”


“I have personal experience of going through the women’s shelter, police, and other organizations, and [I] understand how a nice day out and a distraction is invaluable at a time of stress,” Harris explained.


While you may have heard of an emotional support dog, emotional support goats and donkeys tend to be a little more rare. However, whether there are hooves or paws at the end of their feet, Sarah Harris saw the effect a furry friend can have when she was helping herself and her children deal with the trauma of seeking the services of a local women’s shelter. Now she’s inviting women and children from the same shelter to Willowpark Farm in Edelweiss. Stuart Benson photo
While you may have heard of an emotional support dog, emotional support goats and donkeys tend to be a little more rare. However, whether there are hooves or paws at the end of their feet, Sarah Harris saw the effect a furry friend can have when she was helping herself and her children deal with the trauma of seeking the services of a local women’s shelter. Now she’s inviting women and children from the same shelter to Willowpark Farm in Edelweiss. Stuart Benson photo

Harris said that she utilized animal therapy with both of her children, but particularly her youngest, who is seven years old and who also has learning exceptionalities.


“At that age, they don't have a comprehension of their feelings or their thoughts, but my son's closest friends are these animals,” Harris explained. “The effect has been amazing.”


The animals at her farm include: three goats named Coco, Gwen, and Marshmallow; three cats named Pirate, Treasure, and Spiderman; two donkeys named Rosie and Koodo; and a rambunctious golden retriever named Teddy and his stoic brother, Bear, a black labrador who came bounding to the front gate of the property to meet this reporter.


“Can you tell I have boys?” Harris added, after introducing all of the animals and their names.


Not only is Harris creating an oasis for traumatized women and children, but all of the animals themselves are rescues, including the donkeys Rosie and Koodo, whom Harris rescued from a petting zoo in Pontiac.


“They were left outside all winter with no shelter in ankle deep mud,” Harris said, explaining that when they arrived, the donkeys wouldn’t allow her to approach them. As she spoke, Rosie and Coco were nibbling on carrots from this reporter's hand.


Harris said that due to her experience with the women’s shelter in Chelsea, Maison Libère-Elles, she has been in contact with the shelter to have some of the women and children visit the property for free, along with other members of the public on an invite or referral basis.


“What I offered my kids [animal therapy] not everybody has, so I wanted to create somewhere that would facilitate that for kids who might need it,” Harris explained. “Also, for mothers who are going through the women's shelter — it's somewhere nice that they can just come and sit.”


Harris emphasized that she isn’t a therapist nor is what she offers a form of therapy.


"I would say I'm more of a facilitator of friendships,” Harris said, adding that, in the event a child forms a special bond with a particular animal, she will send the child weekly updates with pictures and stories about their friend. “All of the animals have their own personalities.”


Due to the COVID-19 health restrictions, Harris can’t have any visitors to the property, but in the meantime, she’s hard at work landscaping a “tranquility garden,” which will have hammocks and water fountains for the moms, as well as a “Pirate’s Cove” complete with a treehouse flying the Jolly Roger for the kids — the name for a pirate flag. She also has plans for a children’s book featuring the four-legged characters of Willowpark Farm.


If you would like more information, you can visit the Farm’s Facebook page by searching Willowpark Farm Wakefield. To get in contact with Harris to arrange a visit to Willowpark Farm once health restrictions allow, you can email willowparkwakefield@gmail.com.