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Noah's ART

Judy Brown

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Loxley House Noah's ART Sharon Hall Animal Rescue Therapy

Thursdays are full of squeaks, laughter and twitchy noses at Loxley House, the community centre where Noah’s ART holds regular activity sessions. ART stands for Animal Rescue Therapy and this unique service has two main purposes: animal-assisted wellbeing for humans, and animal welfare.  As founder Sharon Hall explains, ‘through caring for rescued animals, we help people gain confidence, skills and a sense of purpose in life.’

Two dogs rush over to beg a new visitor to play with them. Piebald rats tumbling over each other in their cage suddenly switch to chasing up and down ladders. Rabbits get down to work on their chew-sticks. The Noah’s ART volunteers fill water bottles, share out cage-toys and get ready for the day’s sessions. They’re expecting a group from a rehabilitation ward at a psychiatric hospital, followed by children from a special-needs unit and a lady wanting to overcome her rodent phobia. 

Furry Friends

Sixty-plus assorted animals – rabbits, guinea pigs rats, dogs and a cat – live with Sharon (‘and my long-suffering husband’, she adds). Most of the therapy animals have been rescued as unwanted pets, and each is specially selected for temperament. Covering the High Peak, Tameside and beyond, Sharon takes a few at a time to community centres, care homes, hospitals and special schools. They bring smiles all round. 

Noah’s ART is for people with any sort of trouble on their mind. You may feel you’re set apart from society because you’re deaf, or autistic, or have dementia or other disability. You may struggle with depression or anxiety. Animals don’t care about any of these labels. They have no prejudice or expectations; they don’t test or judge you. The dogs gazing up at you see you as a new friend, not one of society’s problems. Animals just want you to handle them gently and deal with their needs. You’re there simply to enjoy their company. At Loxley House you can do art-and-craft projects – like creating a guinea-pig wonderland out of tubes and boxes – or learn to feed and groom the rabbits, or play outside with the dogs, or just sit with a sleepy pet on your lap and a brew. For care-home residents beset by frailty or dementia, cradling a small furry creature can bring back happy childhood memories. A pet likes to be stroked, and that’s something they can do for it. The animals remind them they are still individuals able to care and worth being cared for.

‘It’s such a simple type of therapy,’ says Sharon. ‘But it works. Animals bring a smile to your face. Strung-up people calm down. Children who won’t talk at school do talk about the animals. Whatever social or emotional baggage you arrive with, you leave it at the door. Forget stress; here you have a safe space. We teach you to look after animals properly, which is important if you ever want to keep a pet of your own. You learn to act calmly for their sake. You learn to respect others – animals, visitors or staff – and they respect you in return. So you gain skills and self-esteem. For people burdened by bad feelings, that’s a big gain.’ The benefits are lasting. Teachers and carers report how much steadier and more sociable people become after Noah’s ART sessions. 

Furry Friends

Thirteen years’ experience in mental-health nursing first inspired Sharon to explore animal-assisted therapy. With a small bequest and a big leap of faith, she set up Noah’s ART in 2014. ‘Funding is a constant challenge, but our results are life-changing. Happy faces, happy animals – they keep us going.’

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