FALLBROOK – In February 2022, D'Vine Path had the opportunity to expand and purchased an eight acre property on Morro Hills Road. This expansion has allowed the program to evolve and develop new ways to educate the students. This new space also allowed the program to invest in therapy animals including one African Sulcata tortoise, one Holland lop rabbit and three miniature Mediterranean donkeys.
According to D'Vine Path Operations Director Canece Huber, the relocation allowed the program to expand in more ways than one.
"Once we relocated to this amazing site, it was evident that our program should expand to include animal therapy," Huber said. "D'Vine Path provides a home to Lola, our bunny; Mr. Sloven, a 70lb African sulcata tortoise and then, in June of last year, three miniature donkeys joined the family. We now have Gepetto, Abu and Jafar, who brought the student interaction with animals to another level."
These animals are all cared for by the students and staff at D'Vine Path. Staff members supervise the care, but the students are in charge of grooming, feeding, walking and cleaning up after the animals.
Research shows that exposure to therapy animals can assist adults with disabilities in many ways, including helping them relax, improving communication, increasing self-esteem and helping them to develop more independence.
Programs Director Serena Batali has witnessed the extreme impact the animals have on the students and their education at D'Vine Path. With the addition of the therapy animals, students have become more responsible, reliable and independent.
"Spending time and caring for these animals greatly impacts the students' sense of importance, responsibility and mindfulness," Batali said. "When the students are with the animals, they receive such nonjudgmental and recharging interactions, which help them problem solve and simply go throughout their day with a sense of confidence and purpose."
This interaction has been extremely beneficial for the students as well as the animals. For example, at first, many students were intimated by the donkeys and their wary nature, but as time went on, the students began to fall in love with them and now they receive affection and attentive care from each student every day.
Aside from caring and cleaning up after them, Batali has recently implemented a new way for the students to interact daily with the therapy animals.
"We've been having compliment circles in the various animal areas," she said. "We will either set up chairs in a circle, or sit on the grass in a circle in Mr. Sloven's sanctuary and go around, asking each other questions and giving compliments. We also bring chairs into the donkey corral and set up a big circle, then the students give each other compliments while the donkeys curiously sniff around us and gently take treats from them."
This activity has encouraged students to spend more time relaxing with the animals and it also provides the students with a chance to practice mindfulness and positivity.
Huber has been extremely impressed by the students and their interactions with the therapy animals within the last year, especially with the newest addition of the three miniature Mediterranean donkeys.
"It's been a gift to watch students that were initially intimidated by an animal they hadn't seen before, to become best buddies," Huber said. "Donkeys are very observant and cautious animals. They will refuse to do anything that appears threatening. Much like the donkeys, our students can be cautious, but with time and trust, our students and donkeys can all explore new experiences together."
Since the therapy animals have been so successful at boosting morale and teaching D'Vine Path students about responsibility, there are future plans to expand the animal therapy program to add chickens and goats.
The therapy animals have become an essential aspect of the program and the students and staff have adopted the animals into the D'Vine Path family. These animals have greatly impacted the students and their skill sets, and they will continue to keep students motivated as time goes on.
For more information about D'Vine Path, visit https://www.dvinepath.org/.