Pet Therapy at the Cristo Rey Ranch in Mount Calvary, Wisconsin

For the Benefit of Both Humans and Animals It's easy to assume that farm and ranch animals may need human care in order to survive and thrive. But working with animals can be beneficial to humans as well - and the Cristo Rey Ranch is a good example of how this works. The ranch is located in Mount Calvary, Wisconsin. It's owned by the Congregation of Sisters Servants of Christ the King, who also operate a nursing home here. The sisters established the nursing home in the early 1960s to care for local residents. Soon after this they began to "collect" animals - first an orphaned lamb and later llamas, alpacas, and other fiber-producing animals, including sheep, Angora goats, and rabbits. The ranch also houses other animals, like horses, donkeys, chickens, and dogs, cats, and other birds. At any given time there are around 300 animals on the ranch. The fiber produced by the sheep, llamas and alpacas, and rabbits is a source of monetary income for the ranch. But the ranch has an additional purpose. As the animals began to accumulate the sisters started bringing residents of the nursing home, Villa Loretto, to the ranch as a form of "pet therapy." The residents could visit with the animals, petting them and talking to them. These visits gave the residents a chance to get away from the nursing home atmosphere and spend time outside for a change. They seemed to boost the residents' spirits. Later, in the early 1990s, the sisters began to offer care for children and adolescents with emotional and behavioral problems. The young people were given the same opportunities to interact with the animals, but they were also shown how to care for them. This provided a form of respite care for the parents, giving them some relief from the constant burden of dealing with their children's problems. But it turned out to have another benefit. The children, in learning to take responsibility for their animals, began to develop their own self-esteem. They learned how to work successfully with others, and in doing so to form healthy relationships. And they learned how to move more slowly, calmly, and quietly around the animals. In other words, they learned to control their own behavior - a benefit which carried over to their lives away from the ranch. The program has been successful enough for the sisters to develop a kind of "outreach" program - a petting zoo that can travel to people rather than requiring them to come to the ranch. The children in the respite program are also given the opportunity to occasionally show the animals; an early effort resulted in the winning of a blue ribbon at a nearby festival. The logo of the Cristo Rey Ranch says a lot about the mission and values of the ranch. Its themes include putting down roots to establish a firm foundation for later growth; human interdependence; and the connection with all of God's creatures. The sisters of the Cristo Rey Ranch originally came to the area to provide support for a nearby seminary. But their work has since expanded to include the surrounding community - of both humans and animals. The benefits of "pet therapy" will be felt not only by the people in the program and by the animals they care for, but also by their families and friends - and in fact anyone whose paths cross theirs for years to come.