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Marisa Novotarski


Marisa Novotarski

Decorated sign at the Smile Farm ii

Dedication I’d like to dedicate this book to my dad for helping foster my love for animals. This played a huge part in choosing my documentary subject. I’d also like to dedicate this book to my film partner for this project, Elayna Parkhurst, for sticking through the motions of our project. I couldn’t have produced the various parts of my projectWW without the support of these people.



e l d w g o e m n ents k c A I’d like to give a huge shout out to Freestyle Academy for equipping me with the tools to make my film and book. I would not be able to learn the Adobe apps necessary to create everything, nor the technical aspects of my projects without Freestyle’s incredible resources. I’d like to thank Matt Taylor, our film teacher, for teaching me the structure of a documentary as well as the technical skills needed to produce a documentary film. And of course, a hug, huge thanks to Animal Assisted Happiness for working with us to create something awesome.


n e t ts n o C Preface 8

Introduction 11

Horses for Healing 13

Cuddly Counselors 16 Paws for Purpose 19

Preface To be quite frank, this project was difficult. Learning new technical skills in all our Freestyle classes challenged my partner and I. Personally, it took some time for my mind to fall away from the creative abstract of first semester and get acquainted to the more technical, realist work of second semester. Elayna and I decided to work together because both of the ideas we presented individually were centered around animal rescues. After reaching out to many different organizations, we were presented with the opportunity to work with Animal Assisted Happiness. The staff there have welcomed us kindly, and I am so grateful for the time we spent on the Smile Farm. We worked hard, missing classes or running late to work as a sacrifice for our project. However, we made it though with more insight into the documentary process. I’m proud of everything I’ve produced for this project and I’m excited to apply the things I’ve learned to future projects.


Audrey Amos with bunny



Introduction Animals have been domesticated for thousands of years, first appearing as sources of food, meat, and hide in early Mesopotamian culture (National Geographic). These relationships laid the framework for relationships between animals and humans that eventually came to the attention of the medical world, in the late 19th century. Recognition of the human-animal bond was first established by psychologists Konrad Lorenz and Boris Levinson in the 193os . Lois Jean Brady, a specialist on the effects of different forms of therapy on people with autism, describes the concept in common language: “This bond is explained as an intrinsic need in humans to bond with nature, especially in the background of their chaotic lives” (Brady). This longing for a connection to nature is what has driven humans to interact with and domesticate animals. Building off of this idea , various medical professionals began to hypothesize the effect of animals on suffering patients. In 1860, Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, commented on the success of interactions with small animals on clinically ill patients. Her observations foreshadowed a practice that, at the time, was unrecognized: animal assisted therapy. Later, in the early 1930s, Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, incorporated his dog, Jo-Fi, into his therapy sessions, furthering the legitimacy of animals as a therapeutic tool(Braitman). Over time, animal assisted therapy has received more research and recognition as a logical practice. The research has all lead to the same conclusion: “Animal-assisted therapy can significantly reduce pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue in people with a range of health problems” (Mayo Clinic). Over the past few decades, observations have been made about the interactions between humans and animals as a means of therapy and healing. Animal assisted therapy has become a widely accepted practice, and has such inspired various organizations to form as centers for this practice. With technology becoming a large part of everyday culture and creating a more fast-paced atmosphere, taking breaks to interact with animals is beneficial for all people, regardless of mental deficit. Animal Assisted Happiness, a native to the San Francisco Bay Area, brings animal assisted therapy into a hectic, stressful culture. As one of the largest hubs of technological advancement in the world, it’s presence provides a breath of fresh air to South Bay residents.


Christopher Amos with bunny


r o f H s e e a s l ing r o H Pulling off of the highway towards Baylands Park in Sunnyvale, I was immediately greeted with the underwhelming scene of green-grey wetlands. My film partner turned into the parking lot, and we both held our breath, hoping to avoid paying for parking. The toll booth operator let us pass, fee-free, with a smile and a wave. We continued on and turned left, and I was pleasantly surprised by the small, colorful buildings appearing just beyond the hood of the car. Animal Assisted Happiness, abbreviated to AAH by the workers and frequent patrons, nestles itself on two acres of farmland. AAH allows children from all walks of life, from those with special needs to victims of trauma, to have a safe, comfortable outlet to experience their emotions while learning about animals. Animal Assisted Happiness works exclusively with special needs children, however they do have open farm days throughout the week for families to visit. AAH also goes to hospitals and schools for stress-relief and healing. AAH is home to around 70 animals, ranging from mini horses to guinea pigs. The animals work together for therapeutic purposes. Among these are alpaca, sheep, goats, bunnies, and mini horses. On any given weekend, volunteers of all ages flood the farm, helping guests hold animals, washing boards, and painting new signs for the farm. Teens and tweens can be seen wandering around, bantering with one another, picking up odd jobs as Vicki, the co-founder of the organization, assigns them. Overall, the energy of the day is positive and playful. The campus is a fun place, a calm place, and a great space to visit for families. What makes Animal Assisted Happiness all the more powerful is their origin story. Lollipop, the farm’s miniature horse mascot, also doubles as the inspiration for the entire organization. In 2006, Vicki Amon-Higa, the co-founder of AAH, was contacted by the friends and family of a little girl named Riley. Riley had been suffering from brain cancer and had been confined to a wheelchair. Riley had previously enjoyed riding horses, but she was no longer able to do so because of her illness. Some of Riley’s close friends and family came in contact with Vicki, requesting a private session with her miniature horse. 13

Having been known in their neighborhood for having boy scouts and girl scouts field trip to their backyard of farm animals, Vicki’s family was no stranger to this type of request. As Vicki explains , “Lollipop went in the front door, up the steps in the front door, onto tarp in her living room and stayed about and hour and a half with Riley and there were a lot of smiles that were created by Riley through her interaction with Lollipop” (Amon-Higa). This interaction was very important, as it helped Vicki realize the therapeutic abilities of her pets. Riley passed shortly after her visit with Lollipop, but she continues to be an inspiration to the organization. Lollipop and Riley’s interaction is immortalized in AAH’s logo of a girl riding on a horse. Their time together, while inspiring the legitimate establishment of Animal Assisted Happiness as a nonprofit, also helped Riley experience the peace of animal assisted therapy.


“Everything about this is amazing.� Kristen Amos, Parent


C o u y l n d s d e lors u C ` T hough animal assisted therapy does help with general health problems, it has shown to be very helpful in regards to mental health issues. With one in six adults experiences some mental health deficit every year, it is important to trial test various therapies to aid in mental health recovery (NIMH). Many people who suffer from mental illness often experience feelings of isolation, self-doubt, and have trouble socializing with others. This can make them more irritable and less likely to ask for help. Introducing animals into therapeutic programs relaxes a situation that could be triggering or stressful to someone with mental illness. Psychology Today staff found that, “Advocates of animal-assisted therapy say that developing a bond with an animal can help people develop a better sense of self-worth and trust, stabilize their emotions, and improve their communication, self-regulation, and socialization skills” (Psychology Today). By adding an animal, such as a dog, cat, or horse to the equation, therapy sessions can be much more effective. The animal relaxes the patient so they can be more open to conversation and removes the stress of human interaction that people with mental illness can experience as a result of feelings of isolation. Animal Assisted Happiness also extends their service to those who have mental health problems. LeeAnn Wilson, the farm director at AAH, highlighted the various conditions the organization works with, stating, “The goal of Animal Assisted Happiness is to create smiles in particular with special needs children, children who are medically fragile, who may be suffering from anxiety [or] depression, any type of situation where they are at risk and need some intervention” (Wilson). The expansion of animal assisted therapy by organizations is so important because it allows for widespread availability of these kinds of resources. Because AAH is a non-profit, it is viable for families in the Bay Area to use and learn from. Patrons have the opportunity to understand the importance of animals to therapy programs and support organizations to further research and support for animal assisted therapy. 16



“...animals are kind, animals do not judge, they don’t ask for anything back...for us it was about creating a place that could be a destination... where people could interact with animals...” - Vicki Amon-Higa, CoFounder, AAH


r P o f u r s p w ose a P Another huge part of Animal Assisted Happiness and animal assisted therapy is the emphasis on working with special needs children. This includes kids on the spectrum and disabled children. There have been several instances of clear connection and progress in special needs children after animal therapy sessions. As Lisa Geng writes, “Specific animal therapies can augment traditional physical, occupational or even speech therapy. Animals used in therapy help children, often with severe challenges, to feel better about themselves� (Geng). Geng is the founder of the Cherub Foundation, an organization that focuses on various forms of treatment for children with neurological or genetic impairments that impair their ability to communicate. It is clear that animal assisted therapy can be more effective in helping children overcome their personal challenges. For example, a child that is non-verbal may be able to create a bond with a therapy dog or other animal and express new emotions based on their interactions with a therapy animal. This kind of interaction is unique and important for popular culture to understand and embrace, as it aids in better quality of life for hundreds of thousands of children and young adults with special needs. Animal Assisted Happiness strives to cater to families with special needs. Though their umbrella is large, children that may be on the spectrum or physically disabled are their main focus (Haroush). AAH manages their outreach through three programs: mobile barnyard, vocational, and private visitations. The mobile barnyard program is a remote outreach program that brings animals into hospitals and wellness centers. By bringing these animals to the public, AAH is able to create healing experiences for children with special needs through animal assisted therapy.


Audrey Amos with goat


Works Cited Amos, Kristen. Personal Interview. 24 March 2018. Brady, Lois Jean. “Animal Assisted Therapy - A Brief History.”, 3 Jan. 2017, Geng, Lisa. “Pet Assisted Therapy For Special Needs.” Pursuit of Research, 29 Jan. 2017, Harmanci, Reyhan. “Dog Complex: Analyzing Freud’s Relationship With His Pets.” Fast Company, Fast Company, 23 Oct. 2014, www. Haroush, Simone. Personal Interview. 6 March 2018. Mayo Clinic Staff. “Therapy Dogs Can Be a Patient’s Best Friend.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 19 Aug. 2016, National Geographic Society. “Domestication.” National Geographic Society, Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society , 9 Oct. 2012, National Institute of Mental Health . “Mental Illness.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Nov. 2017, Psychology Today . “Animal-Assisted Therapy.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, Feb. 2018, therapy-types/animal-assisted-therapy.


View from the entrance of the Smile Farm


h e t A t u u t o hor b A Marisa Novotarski is a junior at Freestyle Academy. She was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She began volunteer work in her community at a very young age, encouraging her passion of documentary and anthropology. Marisa hopes to pursue one or both of these in her professional career. In her free time, Marisa enjoys driving on 280 and enjoying the scenery, reading, drinking coffee, and doing puzzles. She finds inspiration in her work from nature, her friendships, and music.



Marisa Novotarski

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