Flock of pets descend on Eastern Townships seniors' home for monthly zootherapy

Anne-Caroline Coutu runs an animal-assisted therapy program in a number of private residences, public care facilities (CHSLDs) and schools in the region.

Miniature horse, dogs and bunnies provide comfort and diversion for residents

Residents at Wales Home in Richmond are delighted by a visit from their zootherapy animals once a month. (Alison Brunette/CBC)

At a private seniors' residence in the Eastern Townships, seeing a stroller filled with cats, dogs, bunnies and a chicken parading through the halls followed by a miniature pony is "nothing unusual."

So says Barbara Drexel, a resident of Wales Home seniors' residence in Richmond.

"Yes, I love you darling, yes, you're my darling," coos Drexel to the miniature horse named Pascal.

It's all part of a monthly event called zootherapy, where animals of all shapes are brought in to entertain and comfort seniors. 

Anne-Caroline Coutu runs the animal-assisted therapy program in a number of private residences, public care facilities (CHSLDs) and schools in the region.

Coutu started doing zootherapy 10 years ago to help her father who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

Anne-Caroline Coutu started her zootherapy program 10 years ago after her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. (Alison Brunette/CBC)

She started with a dog, then a bunny, and then added a chicken into the mix, sporting a cloth diaper sewn by a friend.

Her mother was also diagnosed with Alzheimer's, so Coutu continued her regular visits.

The staff at the care facilities where her parents were staying encouraged Coutu to continue bringing her animals, telling her that the patients seemed calmer when they were there.

Before long, she started expanding her route, bringing animals to care facilities in Sherbrooke, Magog and Coaticook.

For the residents at Wales Home, the visits are a bright spot each month.

Anne-Caroline Coutu has trained her miniature horse Pascal to stand while a little dog jumps up on his back. (Alison Brunette/CBC)

"I grew up on a farm with many dogs. I always had a dog at the farm." said Norma Isabelle Knowles, while cuddling a dog on her lap. "It's a great entertainment for us."

The miniature horse, Pascal, joined Coutu's fleet by a more circuitous route.

Coutu won him on Le Banquier, the Quebec version of the popular game show, Deal or No Deal.

"Up!" said Coutu, directing a dog to jump on the horse's back, much to the delight of the residents.

With files from Alison Brunette, Aviva Lessard