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This article was published 9/12/2019 (357 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Lucy Sloan didn’t have to venture far for inspiration when she began writing her first book.
Sloan is an animal assisted therapist and the owner of Lil’ Steps Miniatures and Wellness Farm — a small property in St. Malo, about 70 kilometres south of Winnipeg — home to a motley crew of miniature horses, sheep, chickens, cats, dogs, a donkey, a pig and two fainting goats named Cindy and Cristabelle.
"With a fainting goat, their bodies will freeze and they’ll fall over if they get really startled," she says. "They just have this wonderful way of explaining anxiety for children because they actually (go through) that fight, flight and freeze experience that we have when our brain goes into alarm."
The goats were the perfect subjects for a children’s book about managing anxiety.
Sloan published Cindy and Cristabelle’s Big Scare in September and will be hosting a book reading and goat meet-and-greet with Cristabelle at McNally Robinson Booksellers at Grant Park Shopping Centre Wednesday at 10 a.m.
"She’s so wonderful to bring around, I just throw a T-shirt and a diaper on her and we’re good to go," Sloan says, laughing.
In the book, the goat friends are overcome with worry after a coyote visits their farm. A laid-back pig named Wilbert, who is also a real-life resident at Lil’ Steps, shows the goats how to live in the moment and stop their fears from running wild.
To complement the book, Sloan and her colleague, Joanne Lariviere, have developed a toolbox with stress-relieving toys and an anxiety workbook for children and parents.
"It’s supposed to be fun, we want kids and parents to be able to connect because this is a hard topic and a lot of times parents don’t quite understand it," Sloan says. "They see the behaviours, but they don’t see what’s going on emotionally for that child."
Sloan has worked as a counsellor for two decades, but had to put her career in community mental health on hold when she suffered a head injury eight years ago. During her recovery she adopted a pair of miniature horses and experienced the benefits of animal-assisted therapy first-hand.
"I had experienced quite a few symptoms, but one of the big ones was anxiety," she says. "I was able to spend lots of time with them and I really noticed an impact being around the animals and how it helped my own mental health."
When she was able to begin working again, Sloan decided to start her own counselling business. Over the last five years, she has adopted nearly 30 farm animals and has expanded her operations to include animal wellness workshops, day camps and mental health professional development programs.
Individual and group counselling at Lil’ Steps is available for children, teens and adults. Sessions start with a tour of the farm and focus on building client and animal relationships through groundwork, grooming and trust exercises.
Storytelling is also a powerful way to develop connections.
"We have a miniature donkey named Filomena and she experienced quite a bit of trauma in her history. She came from a place where there was a lot of abuse going on," Sloan says. "I might share that story with a child and then they might be able to connect with the emotions that Filomena might have been experiencing.
"It’s really effective, especially for children who don’t have a great sense of being able to express themselves or talk about their emotions."
Cindy and Cristabelle’s Big Scare is the first book in a series Sloan is working on about mental health for children — a market she says is underserved by publishers.
"We have a small list of books that we recommend for kids, but there isn’t a lot. Mental health is not a topic in a lot of children’s books, that’s why we wanted to get it out there and help normalize it," she says, adding that books can help make coping tools accessible for children without access to counselling.
"We can’t reach every child and that’s the hardest part, there are so many holes in the system and people who aren’t able, for many different reasons, to access services."
She plans to tackle depression next with a story about Eclair, a miniature horse with dwarfism that lives on her farm.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.