Updated: Oct 14
Photo Credits: Railside Assisted Living Center / Abbie Holt
Those most precious of our communities often go unnoticed and un-thanked. It's those who have paved the roads before us, blazed trails, fought for freedom and brought up a generation ahead of us. We wouldn't be here without them. They are the senior citizens of our communities. While the tables of time continue to turn, aging is a part of life's process. The joys of youth call to each of us with each passing year and the memories of days long gone drift further away with each breath. A people group often forgotten, is not forgotten by the professionals of the adult care industry who serve them every day.
Those who have dedicated their lives and careers to caring for the aging know first hand what makes our senior citizens so special. Thanks to ever evolving industry standards and the focus of comprehensive care by life enrichment and activity directors who integrate activities of all kinds, assisted living centers continue to push the boundaries of fun at any age. In recent years, one of the more popular activities being requested for enrichment opportunities are animal assisted activities. Animal assisted activities focus on using various species of animals to positively impact the physical, emotional and social activities of participants.
Here at Parkside Farm, we know from first-hand experience how beneficial animal assisted activities can be, specifically using the pygmy goat. So what makes pygmy goats great animals for animal assisted activities and well-suited for JOY Visits for senior citizens? We like to call it the triple S's, Social, Small and Silly!
The caprine (goat) species is at it's core a social one. In order to survive and for their mental health and well-being they do best in a community of other goats. Pygmy goats are very curious creatures and love to try new things and meet new faces. At Parkside Farm, the pygmy goats are well socialized and frequently around people of all ages. We can look to the pygmy goat and remember the importance of having a supportive social circle in our lives for our physical and mental well-being.
Pygmy goats are the smallest breed of domesticated goats on the planet. Baby pygmy goats are on average approximately 3-4 pounds when born. Adult females average 50 pounds and adult males average 60 pounds. Because of their small stature, pygmy goats can easily be transported and maneuver smaller areas and be picked up easily by handlers to be petted. Pygmy goats are non-assuming and non-intimidating for those who may have aversions do canines or larger animals. Pygmy goats are bred for their companionship and loving personalities and pet qualities.
3. Silly Pygmy goats are no stranger to silly antics. They like to bounce, hop, climb and jump around to get where they want to go. The younger the pygmy goat the sillier they are, often twisting and contorting their bodies and "show off" for a captive audience. When doing visits indoors, Nicole Zaagman will place baby pygmy goats on the ground and allow them to "perform." Much laughter, and collective ooo's and awe's can frequently be heard from staff members and senior citizens alike as they watch the tiny creatures bounce and hop around.
A few of the benefits of pygmy goats and JOY Visits include: 1. Memory Recollection During our JOY Visits, Nicole Zaagman makes an effort to provide not only goat education but engagement with the seniors who are interacting during the JOY Visits. As a life coach, Nicole uses thoughtful questions such as asking participants if they've ever owned a pet and if anyone grew up on a farm. Seniors love to share their memories. Seniors are encouraged to ask Nicole questions. She loves being able to provide information about pygmy goats. Some of the frequently asked questions include: what do pygmy goats eat? Where do the pygmy goats live? How big do they get?, etc.
2. Sensory Experience
Engagement of sight, sound and touch. JOY Visits with pygmy goats engage many senses, seeing, hearing and feeling these adorable animals. Watching the pygmy goats movements, mannerisms and interactions might be a first for many seniors participating. Hearing the different noises they make, seniors will often "talk back" to the pygmy goats making playful "baaa" noises. Petting adults and holding baby pygmy goats are a part of many JOY Visits, often the babies getting passed from one lap to another with many sharing they would like to "take the baby home with them."
3. Emotional Engagement
The Jump for JOY's Program mission is: spreading joy with pygmy goats. With all the fun that pygmy goats provide, laughter is a common result. As a part of our JOY Visits, emotional engagement is a must! Many seniors ask to have their photographs taken with the pygmy goats to show their friends and family and to capture their experience. Seniors living at centers and facilities may have limited opportunities to experience outings and animals in general and engage in a shared social activity with their fellow seniors that they can talk about long after. Experiencing these furry, four-legged creatures evokes emotions of happiness, excitement and of course, joy.
If you're a life enrichment coordinator or activity director for a West Michigan senior center or assisted living facility, we would love to connect with you and answer any questions you have about booking a JOY Visit with your seniors. To reach Nicole Zaagman, call or text: 616-201-0220 or fill out this application form to get started. Here is a recent testimonial from Abbie Holt, Activity Director of Railside Assisted Living Center, located in Byron Center, MI from our JOY Visit:
We have not had the pygmy goats visit before but they were such a wonderful joy to experience. The feedback from the residents have been wonderful! It has been over a week and the residents are still talking about how the loved holding the little 2 week old pygmy! Nicole facilitated the visit very well, we can tell that she cares greatly for the animals but also communicated knowledge to all that were present. She also had little story books for the residents to read and they loved it! One of the things I think we all learned that day is that the baby pygmy loved to be held and we loved holding him! Nicole also had some fun facts for us about goats too! Overall, the experience was really engaging and wonderful! We would definitely recommend Nicole! She deeply cares for people and for animals and bringing joy to the lives of others.
Nicole Zaagman lives in Byron Center, Michigan with her high-school sweetheart and her four legged family members. Nicole is an accomplished, Christian entrepreneur and children's author, passionate about helping women succeed in life and business through coaching. She travels the state of Michigan visiting senior centers and special events with her pygmy goats through the Jump for JOY Program™ and operates Parkside Farm in Byron Center, Michigan. Nicole is an advocate and ally for agriculture and farm education and started the Farmilies Connect™ initiative to help connect farms and families in Michigan.