Therapy Ponies Are Bringing ‘Comfort and Joy’ to Dementia Patients

libertygal/iStock via Getty Images
libertygal/iStock via Getty Images

Elaine and John Sangster are proving that sometimes, a pony’s place is in the house, hospital, or nursing home. Together, the husband-and-wife team run Therapy Ponies Scotland, an organization that brings Shetland ponies to homes and hospices throughout Scotland so that dementia patients and other residents can experience the restorative effects of the adorable animals.

“You walk into their bedroom with a pony and their faces just light up,” Elaine told Horse & Hound. “Sometimes you see people who never come out of their room sprinting down the corridor with their Zimmer frames!”

Lyn Irvine, a nurse consultant for Alzheimer Scotland and NHS Grampian (the regional public healthcare board), explained the mental health benefits of spending time with the ponies. “The interaction with the ponies often helps stimulate a positive social response … and minimizes stress and distress. The animals provide comfort, joy, and a sense of excitement,” she told Horse & Hound. It can also boost morale for the patients’ families, and Elaine said that patients' relatives often do plan their visits to coincide with the ponies' arrival.

Elaine said that sometimes a facility's staff isn’t quite sure what to expect of the Sangsters' brood before their first visit, which isn’t totally surprising; managing eight ponies indoors is quite a massive undertaking. But the couple has owned the majority of the herd since foalhood, so they’ve thoroughly trained them to be comfortable and obedient during home visits. They also groom them to perfection.

According to Elaine, the ponies are ”teddy-bear soft to the touch and smell beautiful.” They also attach “‘whoops-a-daisy’ bags” to the ponies’ rear ends, so that they don’t sully their stay with any defecatory disasters. “Every time we go into a care home people can’t believe how well-behaved and calm they are—we are so proud of them we could burst.” Staff members often ask the Sangsters for repeat bookings before the first visit has even ended.

Elaine and John have 15 ponies in total, and usually take eight to each visit. This gives all of the animals enough days off to prance about in their pen as they please.

Are you wishing there was a pony nearby so that you, too, could experience its therapeutic effects? If there isn't one within arm's reach, you could always try petting a cat or dog instead.

[h/t Horse & Hound]

Fish Tube: How the 'Salmon Cannon' Works and Why It's Important

PerfectStills/iStock via Getty Images
PerfectStills/iStock via Getty Images

If you’ve been on the internet at any point in the past week, you’ve certainly come across footage of wildlife conservationists stuffing salmon into a giant plastic tube and shuttling them over obstacles. It’s so bizarre—even by the already loose standards of the web—that it briefly ignited discussions over fish welfare, its purpose, and the seeming desire of people to be similarly transported through a pneumatic tunnel into a new life.

Naturally, the “salmon cannon” has a mission beyond amusing the internet. The system was created by Whooshh Innovations, a company that essentially adopted the same kind of transportation system featuring pressurized tubing that's used in banking. Initially, the system was intended to transport fruit over long distances without bruising. At some point, engineers figured they could do the same for fish.

The fish payload is secured at the entrance of the tube—acceptable species can weigh up to 34 pounds—and moves through a smooth, soft plastic tube that conforms to their body shape. Air pressure behind them keeps them moving. The fish are jettisoned between 16 and 26 feet per second to a new location, where they emerge relatively unscathed. Because there’s no need for a water column, the tubing can cover most terrain at virtually any height.

The tubing solution is a human answer to a human problem: dams. With fish largely confined to still bodies of water thanks to dams and facing obstacles swimming upstream to migrate and spawn, fish need some kind of assistance. In the past, “fish ladders” have helped fish move upstream by providing ascending steps they can flop on, but not all fish can navigate such terrain. Another system, trapping and hauling fish like cargo, results in disoriented fish who can even forget how to swim. The Whooshh system, which has been in used in Washington state for at least five years, allows for expedient fish export with an injury rate as little as 3 percent, although study results have varied.

The video features manual insertion of the fish. In the wild, Whooshh counts on fish making semi-voluntary entries into the tubing. Once they swim into an enclosure, they’re curious enough about the tube to go inside.

If all goes well, the system could help salmon be reintroduced to the Upper Columbia River in Washington, where the population has been depleted by dams. Testing of the device there is awaiting approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

[h/t Popular Mechanics]

Virginia Zoo Is Auctioning Off the Chance to Name Its New Red Panda Triplets

bbossom/iStock via Getty Images
bbossom/iStock via Getty Images

The red panda population at the Virginia Zoo grew significantly earlier this summer, The Virginian-Pilot reports. On June 18, mother Masu and father Timur welcomed a brood of triplets into the world, bringing their total number of offspring up to five. The three red panda babies are currently without names, but the zoo is giving a few lucky bidders the chance to change that.

Red pandas are endangered, with fewer than 10,000 of them living in their natural habitat in the Eastern Himalayas. Red panda breeding programs, like the one at the Virginia Zoo in Norfolk, are a way for conservationists to rebuild the species's dwindling numbers.

In 2017, Masu relocated to Virginia from the Denver Zoo as a juvenile. Zookeepers paired her with a male red panda there named Timur, and in June 2018, she delivered twin cubs named Adam and Freddie. Red pandas typically breed in the spring and summer months and usually have just two babies at a time. But when Masu gave birth again this past June, she had three tiny cubs.

The three new red panda babies each weighed about 5 ounces when they were born and weigh roughly a pound today. Masu has been moved to a private, climate-controlled den to care for her young and will be returned to her original exhibit with her cubs sometime this fall.

By the time they make their debut, the youngest red pandas at the Virginia Zoo will have names, chosen not by the zoo, but by members of the public. Starting yesterday, August 19, and ending August 30, the zoo is holding an online auction for the naming rights of each of the three red panda cubs. As of press time, the honor of naming the two boy red pandas has already been sold for $2500 each, and the current bid for the girl stands at $1000. All the money that's raised will be donated to the Zoo’s conservation partner, the Red Panda Network.

Perhaps due to the results of previous public naming contests, the Zoo did lay out a few stipulations for the winning bidders. It won't accept any repeat names of red pandas that have lived there in the past. Additionally, "any racial, religious or ethnic slurs, explicit language, obscene content, reference to alcohol, drugs or other illicit substances or otherwise unlawful, inappropriate, objectionable, or offensive content" will be rejected. All name submissions from the winners are due to the zoo by September 9.

[h/t The Virginian-Pilot]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER