Every nursing home administrator probably has a favorite story of a resident whose state of health and happiness was transformed by experiencing the unconditional love of an animal. It’s universal, like the healing power of music.

Usually it’s joy-dispensing dogs or cats that wander facilities, though I’ve seen a llama led from room to room and even eat a carrot held in a resident’s mouth. I don’t recommend this, I just report the news. 

An administrator friend says she once, to her residents’ delight, allowed a horse to be led down a hall, through the lobby and out the front door. This seems risky and extreme, and wasn’t she worried about the need for clean-up on aisle seven? Nope. “Like we’re not dealing with that already?” she responded.   

Looking to the future of animal therapy, goat yoga is now a thing, I’m told. The sure-footed critters enhance the practice by crawling on people’s backs. If that’s not a good fit for your activity program, baby goats are surprisingly as affectionate as puppies, and I’ve seen a beaming resident feed one from a bottle.

At this point, most of the good therapy animals have been chosen, and the bad ones weeded out. Crocodiles, grizzly bears and wolverines aren’t sufficiently soothing. Same with therapy cobras, as no one wants Samuel L. Jackson running through the building shouting, “I’ve had it with these gosh-darn snakes in this gosh-darn post-acute rehab facility!” 

But just when I thought all the boundaries had been tested, the New York Times reports that therapy cows are gaining acceptance. They’re apparently calm, good listeners and enjoy being brushed, petted and embraced. With the Pasture-Driven Payment Model (PDPM) looming, maybe every nursing home will soon have one in the lobby. 

Is cow therapy best delivered as group or concurrent? It’s too early to say. But at least you’ll have a head start on a modified holiday nativity scene.