Page last updated at 02:09 GMT, Thursday, 31 July 2008 03:09 UK

Pet pigs 'success' at care home

By Clare Babbidge
BBC West Midlands

Christine Creighton and animals on the pet farm
The pet farm is being enjoyed by residents, staff and visitors

Owning dogs and cats has long been considered to have health benefits, but one Birmingham care home has gone a step further and set up an on-site Pet Farm.

It's hard not to smile when there's a pig snuffling your toes, and the aptly-named Snuffles and her orange and black-spotted friend Anna are causing quite a stir in their new home.

The two Kune Kune pigs were mere piglets when they arrived at Neville Williams House.

The Pet Farm, which officially opens on Thursday, also has chickens, rabbits and guinea pigs.

Ann Rainsford, manager of the Selly Park care home, said the scheme was a success.

"It's made a lovely atmosphere within the home, with the staff and with everybody," she said.

The home has 50 elderly residents and about half have some form of dementia, she said.

'Entertainment'

The small farm in the garden was paid for by 15,000 in donations and residents can visit it whenever they like.

They feed, handle and stroke the animals, which in therapeutic terms is known as Animal-Assisted Activities.

Snuffles and Anna, two Kune Kune pigs
The Kune Kune pigs can be trained

One resident, Christine Creighton, 79, said she loved the animals, especially the pigs who she nicknames "Charlie".

She pats them and enjoys feeding them bananas and other delights.

She was brought up on a farm in Limerick, Ireland, and said the animals reminded her of that time.

"The moment I saw them I wanted to pick them up in my arms," she said.

She said the pigs were mischievous and one recently ran and hid from staff.

"I'd sleep outside just to make sure I didn't miss anything they did!" she said.

Jim Cartwright, 85, is another regular farm visitor. He never had pets as a boy, but loves to see the animals now.

"I love the pigs mostly, " he said. "They're a source of entertainment."

Marcus Fellows, chief executive of BCOP
What I see is residents who are excited and improvements in their general well-being
Marcus Fellows, BCOP head

Ms Rainsford said: "When we get young children and babies come into the home, you can see the change in people's faces.

"And when some residents go onto the farm, it has the same reaction - their faces fill with joy."

The farm adds to a range of activities at the home, including musical bingo and pub lunches.

The home is among those run by the charity Broadening Choices for Older People (BCOP).

Its chief executive Marcus Fellows said he had the farm idea while at a nursing home in Holland to look at nutrition.

"I heard a cockerel and I thought it was this guy's phone - I mean people have strange ring tones nowadays," he said.

"But then they showed me quite a large paddock with a goat and a few chickens and they said that as a lot of people came from rural communities it made them feel at home and reminded them of their childhood."

He added: "It was fenced off and I realised for us to work it would need to allow interaction with the animals."

Christine and the pigs
Christine is among residents who visit the farm

He said the Kune Kune pigs were chosen because the breed was known to make good companions and can be trained. He plans to add ducks at the farm and an aviary.

Mr Fellows said he could already see the farm's benefits.

"What I see is residents who are excited and improvements in their general well-being," he said.

"There seems to be far more visits from relatives and grandchildren appearing more often which helps residents.

"It also gives a reason for being outside more and provides a discussion topic."

Research plans

Mr Fellows said BCOP was hoping to work with university researchers and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to look at the benefits.

He said 'Pet Therapy' research had centred on cats and dogs and the charity wanted to be involved in something broader.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has also advocated the use of pets to promote health.

Pauline Ford, RCN adviser on nursing older people, said: "There's sufficient evidence in relation to how it can help people who are low in mood or people who have raised blood pressure."

She said the RCN has also backed Pat a Dog schemes where animals went into nursing homes.

She added that not all people with dementia would benefit from interaction with animals and some could be scared, so it was important to "assess individual by individual". The home says this is already its policy.

Ms Ford said it would be interesting to see if the farm idea spread.

"I think it's a lovely initiative," she added.


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