AR-News: (MA) The healing power of pets
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Sun Oct 12 04:22:55 EDT 2003
By Kathy Uek / News Staff Writer
Sunday, October 12, 2003
While sitting in Ghiloni Park in Marlborough with her son, Adam, more than 10
years ago, Debby Foley noticed a young autistic child who couldn't go up the
ladder and down the slide. Foley sent Bandi to the rescue.
With Foley's guidance, Bandi, her Sheltie Carrin mix dog, showed the child
how to enjoy the slide, the see-saw and everything else the playground had to
"The little boy was stuck, so I took Bandi and put him in front of the child
and said 'Bandi, up,' and Bandi went up the ladder. By showing him what to do,
the child followed him," said Foley.
The Marlborough resident knows firsthand what animals can do for children
with disabilities -- they are wonderful therapy for her 17-year-old severely
handicapped son, Adam.
"His bunny soothes him every day when he comes home from school," said Amy
Brown, Busy Bee 4H club leader. "Debby has noticed that Adam's caring for his
bunny has helped him to grow in ways he wasn't progressing previously. Debby
also found that the animals helped to soothe her when she had a bad day, which
happens more frequently than most can imagine."
Working with children and animals, Foley branched out to 4H clubs.
"After the Columbine tragedy, I got disgusted," said Foley. "I thought
there's no compassion and no respect for life. People weren't taking responsibility
for themselves and that's not the way it should be. The 4H supports life
morals and makes you a better person. It's all about how you live your life with
"Pet therapy benefits the kids in so many different ways as well as the
animals and the patients they visit at the nursing homes," said Brown. "By working
with the animals, the children connect better with their families and friends
and they become more understanding of older and handicapped people."
For a 4H project, Foley also helped her son give a four-page visual
presentation at the 4H club on how to feed a bunny. Last year Adam won a blue ribbon at
the local Busy Bee 4H club.
Foley also signed on as a special needs teaching assistant while Adam
attended Assabet Collaborative program and Bandi helped there, too.
"I knew that animals and children went together because my son thrived at
home with animals," said Foley. "Adam overcome a lot of tactile problems by
holding his pet mouse and bunnies."
Foley cares as much about the pets as she does about humans. She takes in
animals no one else wants, that have been abused or have bad habits and gives the
animals love and modifies their behavior.
"With kids and animals it's the same -- whether it's a barking dog or a
screaming child," said Foley. "You isolate the problem, find out what happened
right before that and come up with a solution."
In addition to Bandi, Foley has lots of other animals including her spud
McKenzie dog, English Bull Terrier, Ketzy, who is best friends with her son, Adam.
Her rabbit, Onyx came next followed by ferrets, turtles, fish, birds and an
iguana, to name only a few.
For her pet therapy services, Foley charges a minimal fee to cover her
expenses including transportation and yearly vet visits.
Petting animals helps the elderly relax, so Foley began bringing her pets to
nursing homes such as the Carlyle House in Framingham and assisted living
facility, New Horizons in Marlborough.
After the patients gather in the main hall, Foley and her assistants
circulate among the clients letting them pet animals. For the patients who can't get
out of their room, prompted by Foley, Bandi goes down the hall, greets the
people and gives them a paw and kiss.
"It's great when you have a person that's immobile and recuperating from a
stroke, it brings them to life," said Foley. "It's a way to increase a person's
quality of life."
Kaitlyn Sullivan helps Foley with her pet therapy at nursing homes.
"Debby devotes her time to kids and animals and goes to nursing homes and
lets the patients pet her animals," said Sullivan, a junior at Westborough High
School."I don't know how she does it. She has a handicapped son and she takes
care of him and that shows a lot about her. I basically grew up in her house
playing with the animals and learned about caring and taking care of animals."
Foley also brings her iguana to the Forest Avenue school in Marlborough.
"Debby is fabulous," said Brown. "She makes everybody brighten up. We bring
her into my son's classroom with her iguana and the kids crowd around her and
call her 'Miss Fizzle,' the school teacher in the Magic School Bus series.
"She's an unbelievable person because she has this disabled child who can't
talk and walk. Even when she's feeling miserable, she's right there for the
children. She is amazing. She knows so much and wants to share it all and it
makes everybody love her so much." The main thing is to see her with her son.
because she is so loving to him and she always makes sure that he looks cool. He
always has a baseball hat on."
Foley has more than her fair share of worries. Due to a severe bone disorder
she may have to soon be in a wheelchair like her son, Adam.
In the interim, she enjoys her children, Kerianne and Adam along with her
husband, Glenn and all her projects involving pets.
"In addition to my family and my sense of humor, the animals keep me going.
My critters are a hoot," she said. "When I get a migrane, I grab a bunny and
lay on the coach."
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