Charities in Spain, as probably anywhere else, run from completely corrupt to very dedicated and devoted to their cause. When you donate money make sure you know where it is going, and how much of it actually gets to the cause. Some charities are all volunteer and some have a few paid workers. Animal assisted therapy can be run either way. Some people charge the same as a riding lesson, while others don’t charge any thing.
WHAT IS ANIMO?
ANIMO IS A NATIONAL NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION THAT IS DEDICATED TO PRESENTING ALL TYPES OF ANIMAL ASSISTED THERAPY TO THE DISABLED. ANIMO started almost twenty years ago as an idea I had having worked in this field since I was five years old in Maryland USA, teaching riding and horse-care to the mentally disabled. It was not a new thing at that time, but was nowhere as developed as it is now. ANIMO started here in Mojácar, Spain in 1988. ANIMO and its farm school were also available to the local school children at no charge. Everyone at ANIMO worked for free including the paediatrician and the physiotherapist. ANIMO was operated on my own property with my own animals and my own funding. The reward was in the improvement and happiness in the students. Since all the animals were bottle-fed and raised in my home, we could put many animals together, such as wild boar, pigs, sheep, donkeys etc.. We had a small pen where the animals could be turned loose so that groups of people such as the blind could touch them, smell them, feed them etc.. We had groups come from all over Spain, Germany, France and many others. Almost all of our students were young and very severely physically disabled. We followed the international standards even though they are not required in Spain. I had many people calling for information to start a project similar with no experience of any kind and no knowledge of different disabilities and the contradictions, benefits and dangers. In the geographical area that ANIMO worked, most disabled were not even registered and had no therapy of any kind, in fact, most were just left in the home never to go out. They were (and are) usually cared for by a family member such as the grandmother or aunt. It was very courageous of our students’ parents to try this unheard of method that we were offering. ANIMO consisted of about forty volunteers and as many students. I was lucky that many of my volunteers came from England and had worked with RDA Riding for the Disabled, which has over 700 centres in the UK. One main problem I found with using only volunteers is that it seems to serve a double purpose. Most were elderly, lonely or with problems of their own. I had a real need for young strong volunteers with a basic knowledge of either disabilities, or of animals or preferably both, but there were none. That is where my children and a few of their friends came in. I couldn’t have done it without them, because the horses needed to be trained and exercised we had nine, and we needed good leaders and side-walkers. Every month we had training sessions for the volunteers when they would take turns riding or side-walking and we would introduce any toys or objects that were going to be used in the sessions until it became second nature to the horse, it also let the volunteers get a feel of what the student was feeling and how it helped each specific problem.
I attended courses and seminars all over Europe and we hosted courses twice a year with prominent teachers from all countries. All but one were held at my home and had a technical section and a practical section. The University of Almeria hosted an international conference for us out of which we wrote a book, the only one in existence in Spanish. The book is called Introducción a Hipoterapia y Hípica Adaptada en Niños con Parálisis Cerebral. Unfortunately the book sold out in record time and there is still a big demand for it. I have not been able to get the University to print more copies. We have had a large demand from South America. As soon as I can find a way to get more copies I will post it on this site.
About five years ago, the practical sessions stopped due to lack of funding and adequate volunteers. With all my children off in university and 9 horses and four donkeys to prepare each day it became impossible. It also became too expensive. We still help provide information to legitimate groups that are trying to start up and some have been very successful. My daughter and I give speeches at conferences and information by e-mail or phone. We do not accept any donations, as at this time we have no animals or expenses.
ANIMO started about 20 years before Spain was ready for it, now AAT is becoming very popular and the authorities are starting to make a few regulations however there are still only a handful of centres that know really what they are doing in all aspects of AAT especially hippotherapy. Because the family unit is so strong in Spain the idea of volunteers was a novelty especially in more uneducated areas. The family unit sticks together and it is only now that the children are going away to university or work. So now is a much better time to get started. We still have most of our small animals, such as guinea pigs, rabbits and birds etc. I am now working on a few projects that I am very excited about and I will inform you as they progress. Even though I have never felt like a ‘second rate-citizen’ here and have been well accepted, I have found that it is much harder for a non-Spaniard to get funding. A few times I have turned in projects with great enthusiasm from the authorities, given land and grants only to find a little later that someone else took the land and grants and never even started the project, especially as they had no understanding of it.