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These therapy goats are changing people’s lives

These therapy goats are changing people’s lives

When Kim Davis named her family’s farm, she chose the name Ataraxy. It means “a state of serene calmness,” and that is what the farm represents for her veteran husband, and now many others. 

Davis and her husband, Blair, started their farm in Lawrencetown, N.S., about 40 minutes east of Halifax, in 2013. It was originally a family venture to help treat Blair Davis’s service-related PTSD, but the farm — and its therapy goats — have grown to mean much more. 

“This farm was started for me, but it’s more than that now,” Blair Davis said. “It’s to the point where it’s helping others … And it just fills my heart with goodness.”

This summer, they opened up Ataraxy Farm to anyone who needs it.

Their goats receive frequent visits from injured veterans, clients of the Dartmouth Adult Services Centre, and members of the Eastern Shore Mental Health Association, who are welcome to pet and cuddle the friendly, people-loving goats. 

They also do free weekend tours for anyone who signs up on their website.

Blair Davis sits with Frank, his first goat. Davis got Frank for free with the purchase of a horse. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

“To me, this is normal — it’s just a farm. But other people, it’s special,” Davis said. “We started to get more [visitors] here with different types of disorders, PTSD, anxiety, depression, and they say it’s so calming.”

Davis said after serving in Bosnia with the Canadian Armed Forces, he was suffering and looking for an outlet for his emotions. While going through rehab with Veterans Affairs, he realized animals could be his purpose.

“They’re very sensitive to our emotions and body language,” he said. “It helped me heal from the trauma that I had.”

What started with one goat named Fred has become 48 goats spanning four generations. The farm also now has donkeys, horses, a mule, chickens and guinea fowl. 

In order to take care of the animals, they took on eight volunteers who benefit from the goats themselves. Davis said he sees the same positive changes in the volunteers that he saw in himself.

“It’s the whole experience, it’s powerful,” he said. “I didn’t realize … how much of an impact it was having on the volunteers and the people coming here until I heard their stories.”

Abby Burke says she hopes to have a career that involves animals someday. (Nicola Seguin/CBC)

Abby Burke, 15, comes to the farm weekly. She is one of five volunteers who are age 16 and under. Before starting volunteering, she suffered from anxiety and missed six months of high school. 

Burke’s mother, Betty Boudreau, said the COVID-19 pandemic made it hard for her daughter. 

“She really withdrew into herself and she was spending most of her time in her room, didn’t want to do anything, didn’t go anywhere. She just went to sleep all the time,” Boudreau said.

Then they found out Ataraxy Farm was looking for volunteers.

“She’s always had a real connection with animals … so she came. She loved it,” said Boudreau. “What a difference in her —it’s the smile when she comes here.”

Walking through the yard, Burke snuggles with the goats and calls most of them by name. 

“I feel more in my element when I’m with the goats, to be honest,” Burke said. “They’re just more understanding. They can’t really judge you like other people can.”

Kim Davis said this is why she and her husband do it. 

“That’s what this experience is about, is allowing people to find those emotions that they’ve lost,” she said.

“And the goats do that.” 

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