Troubled kids and animals team up in Langley

An emaciated horse rescued by the B.C. SPCA has found a new home and a new life as a four-legged therapist helping at-risk kids.

Chase, a 20-year-old quarter horse, was seized along with 16 dogs in an SPCA cruelty investigation at a rural property in Clearwater in February.

In April, Keryn Denroche, founder of the Semiahmoo Animal League Inc. (SALI), took Chase in for her non-profit organization, which brings together rescue animals and kids who have experienced violence, abuse and trauma.

“He was skin and bones, undernourished and very wary of people,” said Denroche. “The kids help him heal.”

At the end of the eight-week program, Chase gained 90 pounds, she said.

“I think he’s very surprised he’s been taken care of so kindly. But he’s loving all the attention he is getting.”

The public will have an opportunity to meet Chase and his farm family at SALI’s annual fundraiser, the Black Tails & Boots Gala, on Sept. 13.

SALI’s Farm offers animal-assisted therapy for kids aged three to 12 from Surrey, Langley and White Rock who have been abused or have witnessed abuse. Most come from troubled homes and domestic abuse situations.

The program has helped about 80 kids since it started in 2011, with the help of two women who offered the use of their 75-acre farm in Fort Langley and its small menagerie of animals, including chickens, roosters, barn cats, and two miniature donkeys.

Participants in the day camp program visit the farm once a week. Most do not have experience with farm animals, and start off collecting eggs from the chicken coop and tending the gardens before moving on to the donkeys and the horses – Chase and Badger, another rescued quarter horse with two lame legs that joined SALI in May 2012.

The kids also help with grooming the horses and cleaning out their paddocks, and they don’t seem to mind, said Denroche: “They just understand they are able to care for another living being and it makes them feel really good.”

Denroche founded SALI in 2008 when she was earning her degree in humane leadership from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. She was inspired by the Forget Me Not Farm in Sonoma, Calif., and wanted to create a similar program locally.

SALI’s Farm covers the cost of the kids’ transportation and outdoor gear. The program is run by volunteers, except for Chris Mayworm, the program’s project director and clinical counsellor.

Denroche is looking for a larger property so she can expand the program to take on more kids and more rescue animals. The organization is holding its third annual gala fundraiser Sept. 13 in an effort to raise $10,000 for the program and for Chase’s care, which has cost about $3,200 over the last three months.

Get tickets at sali.ca. A map and location are provided for those who purchase tickets.

People can follow the animals on Twitter (such as @Badgerthehorse).

Denroche said the program makes a huge difference in the kids’ lives.

Most of them arrive at the farm guarded and wary, especially of human relationships, but it doesn’t take long for them to open up to the animals.

Through the interaction, Denroche hopes the kids can learn empathy, something they might not learn in a troubled home.

“It’s very healing to be outdoors with the animals and feel the unconditional love,” she said.

It sounds so simple, she added, but it works.

– Cheryl Chan is a Vancouver Province reporter.

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