Children and teens facing anxiety are finding calm and connection through animal therapy offered in Southern Manitoba.

"The farm is in St. Malo, Manitoba and we offer animal-assisted counselling to children and teens with a variety of different needs," says Lucy Sloan, the owner of Lil' Steps Wellness Farm.

Sloan says the animals are her co-workers. 

"A number of years ago I had a major head injury. I was in the community mental health world at that time, working with adults. I wasn't able to work for two years because of the injury. It caused a number of symptoms including anxiety."

At that point, Sloan purchased two miniature horses named Peanut and Sweetie.

"They were my own therapy and healing at that time. I was able to experience first-hand that peace and healing around animals."

Having felt the calming effects of animals alongside her 20 years of counselling experience gave her the idea of sharing this with others. 

Lucy Sloan, the owner of Lil' Steps Wellness Farm.Lucy Sloan, the owner of Lil' Steps Wellness Farm. (Lil' Steps Wellness Farm/Facebook)

The Wellness Farm opened to the public five years ago and today they offers day camps as well as individual counselling and workshops in schools. 

While Sloan started off with horses, she has a whole host of animals on her farm used in therapy, including a pig, ducks, sheep, horses, dogs, cats, and two fainting goats. 

"One of the animals you wouldn't think does great therapy is Mr. Mean Duck. He goes around and pushes the other chickens and hisses all the time."

A boy came to the Wellness Farm for therapy, and one of the days he shared a profound thought with Sloan.

"I shared Mr. Mean Duck's story with the boy, about how he lost his best friend and ever since he's been mean. The boy turns to me and says 'That's me. Sometimes I push people away and I'm angry but I think I'm actually sad on the inside'."

Sloan says that COVID-19 has been a perfect storm for anxiety, with all the uncertainty it's created.

She's written a book about her farm animals, the main characters are Sloan's two fainting goats, to teach children about anxiety and how to combat it. This book along with an anxiety toolkit is now also available as a course in schools. 

"If we can teach kids early on that emotional identification piece, it gives them back this sense of power and control," says Sloan.

Lucy Sloan with a duck on her animal therapy farm. (Lil' Steps Wellness Farm/Facebook)