Sometimes you just need a shoulder to cry on—and as any animal lover knows, turning to our friends in the four-legged form can be a great way to feel better. When most people think of animal assisted therapy, small animals like dogs, cats, and bunnies probably come to mind. But being with large animals can be therapeutic as well—experts say it encourages a certain level of trust, which is part of the healing process.
But what about therapy farm animals? Is that a thing? Dr. Katherine Compitus is a psychotherapist and social worker who uses animals in her therapy work with trauma survivors. She uses a method called bovine therapy, a.k.a. therapy with cows, to offer comfort and support to her patients. Compitus tells Daily Paws that bovine therapy is similar to equine therapy (which uses horses) and offers patients a refreshing and reparative relationship built on trust between humans and animals.
Also known as "cow cuddling," bovine therapy actually originated in the rural areas of the Netherlands over a decade ago, where it spread across Europe before reaching the U.S. more recently. Cow therapy has earned its spot in the mental health wellness space and for good reason: studies have shown that positive interactions with animals can actually increase oxytocin levels in humans—the same hormone that is released in social bonding.
Magnus and Callum are a cuddly set of therapy cows who work with Compitus at Surrey Hills Sanctuary in New York. Snuggle sessions with the 1,200-pound bulls include licks, rubs, and long rests against these friendly creatures. Survivors are offered two different types of healing vibes, all dependent on the bulls' individual nature. She says that Magnus is much more gregarious and outgoing, while Callum can be more shy and standoffish. Humans are able to choose which animal they find to be a better fit for their needs, and Compitus says that they both "stand near you until they feel you are ready to engage on a deeper level."
Compitus says that therapy sessions with Magnus and Callum also give survivors a sense of control over difficult situations, helping to combat feelings of depression and isolation. She describes the cow snuggles as a very "safe" and "trusting" feeling, adding that it's impossible not to feel comfortable around the bulls. Compared to animal therapy with other smaller creatures, Compitus describes cow cuddling with Magnus and Callum as a "full body experience ... [compared to] holding a bunny, which can be small compared to this giant animal wrapped around you."
Watching Compitus play and snuggle with these amazing animals shows a clear sense of relaxation. She says these gentle giants have taught her how to enjoy the little things in life. "They remind me about the humane part of being human ... and that everything is going to be OK." A lesson we all need on constant replay these days!