Northland News

'Therapy donkey' is popular ambassador

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Munir Saed, 4, of Northland, makes a face at Eddie the donkey to the amusement of his friends Hamcza Issa (center), 5, and Makhraj Ali, 5, at the National Church Residences Center for Senior Health-North during a social held at the location July 22.

Eddie eats it up.

The donkey, Eddie is a member of the four-legged staff at Pataskala-based PBJ Connections' equine-assisted therapy program. He loves going on visits like the one he made at last week's "summer social" gathering at the National Church Residences Center for Senior Health-North, 1700 E. Dublin-Granville Road.

"He just seems to so much enjoy the attention and the fact he gets groomed," said Brenda Doner, a Northwest Side resident who has been a PBJ Connections volunteer the past four or five years.

"Eddie really likes the attention and he's pretty happy to stand there in the middle of a festival and have children come up and pet him and kiss him," said Holly Jedlicka, who co-founded PBJ Connections with Glenda L. Childress in September 2006.

"You can just tell from his body language," Jedlicka added.

PBJ Connections involves licensed social workers and licensed counselors working with trained equine specialists, as well as horses and the occasional donkey, to provide mental health and behavioral health therapy.

That horses, and the occasional donkey, can help people with mental health and behavior problems was discovered through the use of the animals to assist with physical therapy, according to Jedlicka, now executive director of PBJ Connections.

"They're absolutely incapable of being deceptive, like a dog or a cat or other predators," Jedlicka said.

"They give really good feedback moment to moment to all of us," she said. "That is really powerful feedback for clients."

Columbus resident Jeff Frontz was among those involved in the founding of PBJ Connections.

He admitted last week that he knew absolutely nothing about equine assisted therapy, but had faith in longtime friend and co-worker Childress when she and Jedlicka proposed forming the organization.

"I was completely in the dark about it and going completely on faith, based on what Glenda and Holly said," recalled Frontz, who helped set up the PBJ Connections website, arranged email service and advised on the crafting of bylaws and a mission statement.

"Over the years, I've read the successes (of equine therapy) on their website and some of their clients have given testimonials," Frontz said.

"My faith has been rewarded. They definitely do good things, and I'm very proud to have been involved in the beginning."

Doner said she and her husband attended a Pet Expo at which she met one of the PBJ Connections donkeys.

"I just fell in love with the animals," Doner said.

"I just felt a real connection with the program, and it was something I need to stay with."

Doner said she, like many PBJ Connections clients, deals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

"The donkeys are smaller than the horses, so typically people are more receptive to them, even if they are nervous about being around equine," Jedlicka said.

The gathering last week at the senior center in Northland is part of an ongoing effort on the part of National Church Residences officials to raise awareness of the facility, which provides adult day services, as well as to create events that bring different generations together, according to Dan Fagan, vice president of home and community services operations.

NCR provides housing, health care and supportive services for senior citizens and families.

"One of the things that we're really committed to in the adult day services we provide is to try to bring generations together," Fagan said.

"We wanted the Northland area to come to our center, come to an event that would be social and fun, and would involve intergenerational activities."

The "summer social" featured not only Eddie the donkey, but also an ice cream truck, face painting, balloon animals, games and hot dogs.