Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Story of Angel

Angel was a young boy with cerebral palsy who came from a very small inland village in southern Spain. How Angel’s family ever found ANIMO, I have no idea. They showed up one day and said that they wanted us to help their son. The parents were farmers and were illiterate. They had no idea what was wrong with their son and assumed that he was retarded because he couldn’t speak or walk or even control his limbs. We set up an obligatory, free medical exam, by our volunteer doctor Dr. Maria Rose. She explained very carefully to the family what cerebral palsy was and that Angel was much more aware and understood much more than they had imagined. He started his therapeutic riding the following week. Angel still crawled around on the floor because the family didn’t have a wheelchair or the means to obtain one. We always had wheel chairs available for our students so that they didn’t have to put one in the car; that is if they had one. Angel advanced very well and his parents enjoyed chatting with the other families and seeing that they were not alone. Our volunteers kept the children occupied with rabbits and other farm animals while they were waiting for their turn to ride. They never understood why these strange foreign people helped work with so many Spanish disabled children, seeing as most of them never even spoke the same language. We were very lucky to have over forty volunteers from all over Europe, many of whom had worked in riding for the disabled in their own countries, and all brought a wealth of knowledge and ideas to ANIMO. In those years, the late eighties, Spain seemed to be the only European country that had never heard of Animal Assisted Therapy. As Angel progressed and the family spent time with the other parents, their whole way of treating and speaking to Angel changed; making a huge difference to Angel’s life. For the first time he was part of a loving family and not just tossed to one side. Another of our young students, with muscular dystrophy, died and wanted his parents to give his fabulous electric wheel chair to some boy who would love it as much as he did. We chose Angel. Angel and his family plus our doctor and other volunteers were there when Angel sat in this great machine. Not only could he sit up by himself, but he could go places. His family were sure that he could never even learn to use the controls but within a few minutes, to the surprise of his family, he was zooming all over our terrace. We had meant to change the controls to the other side to make it easier for him because they were set on Angel’s bad side, but even that didn’t stop Angel. We had the wheel chair moved to Angel’s house and he soon was able to go around town on his own. The town was so pleased that in 1990 they invited me to give a talk to the village and they awarded me with a plaque of gratitude.
Since we never charged a fee at ANIMO, some of the parents would bring us fruit or vegetables from their gardens. The interaction between the parents was almost as valuable as the therapeutic riding that their children were receiving. We had many group and family BBQ’s and parties for every American and European holiday. They carved pumpkins for the first time, had Easter-egg hunts on horse back, Guy Faulkes night with fireworks and every year we had a dinner where we gave out awards and prizes to the students and volunteers.

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