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The Psychiatrist is In

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Kristina Nicholas-Anderson and Maggie Mae Kristina Nicholas-Anderson and Maggie Mae

Maggie Mae, the area's first helper zebra

There is more than just a name that is strange in Athol. Much of the area surrounding this little town is in acreage, usually five-acre tracts reaching from Highway 54 to Rathdrum. Included in that area are many horses, some llamas, yaks, camels and the odd zebra. Bothered by the persistent rumor that a zebra lived somewhere close to Clagstone in the Silver Meadows region, I investigated. What I found was an amazing story.

There is, in psychotherapy, a discipline called, “Equine Assisted Psychotherapy.” Kristina L. Nicholas-Anderson is a certified equine assisted mental health therapist who is program director for Diversified Social Services, Inc., which is located in Dalton Gardens. This discipline uses horses and other animals to help communicate in subtle ways to people who perhaps do not believe in other people, but will trust an animal.

Right now you are thinking, “Wait! Zebras aren’t horses, are they?” No, they are not. Maggie Mae, the zebra featured in Kristina’s work, is the first ever zebra to be used in this manner, and in close contact with individuals seeking help for their mental health troubles.

Maggie Mae is a domestically raised animal that Kristina raised from days old, bottle fed to its now two-and-one-half-year age. She is not yet mature, which takes about four or more years, Maggie Mae doesn’t know she is a zebra. She follows Kristina around like a puppy, nosing into whatever Kristina is doing. The animal is routinely taken to work in Dalton Gardens where she entertains patients and staff, peeking at them through the windows. She also sometimes walks into the house and makes herself at home with the family.

When at home in Silver Meadows, she often is allowed to run free, knowing where her yard begins and ends. While the family dogs are ignored, even when “Bear,” the family Pomeranian is barking and nipping at her heels, she will run off the stray dogs that wander onto the property. Still, zebras are not striped horses—they are wild animals, although this one is pretty friendly for a wild one. Move abruptly, and the fight-or-flight tendencies of wild creatures surfaces. Other animals located on Kristina’s farm include Lady, a 30-year-old arthritic palomino and Onyx, a beauty of a black horse/pony mix, and two chickens.

Equine assisted psychotherapy is used for many troubled people, most quite sane, but with problems in relationships and other related issues. Some of the treatment methods include, but are not limited to: cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, equine and animal therapy and other evidence-based treatments. Put in simpler language, some of the areas that this clinic can help with are depression, anxiety, loss/grief, anger management, relationship issues, behavioral problems, stress management, women’s issues and borderline personality disorders.

Animals have a long history of helping humans—the zebra’s helping nature has been recognized for a much shorter time—and their abilities range from the well-known assistance that dogs give to the blind to some pets’ ability to warn their diabetic owners of a drop in insulin, to the well-documented lowered blood pressure seen in nursing home patients who pet a cat.

In the impossible-to-explain category, Kristina’s cocker spaniel, Azalea, which never left her own yard, suddenly departed from that behavior when her neighbor had a stroke. Azalea immediately started sleeping with the afflicted woman and her husband at night, and staying during the day if the husband had to work, always returning home for dinner and a visit. To this day, she hasn’t failed to visit for the night next door—Maggie Mae isn’t the only helper animal found in the Nicholas-Anderson household.

Maggie Mae is a Damara zebra born in the United States. She is being hand raised by Kristina, program director of the equine assisted psychotherapy program, as well as a therapist, herself. Her long term goal is to incorporate Maggie Mae into the equine program. If successful, she will be the world’s first zebra documented and partnered with her owner in this manner. Two years ago, when Maggie Mae was just a baby, she was featured on KXLY TV out of Spokane, a spot that was picked up by Good Morning America. It would seem that there are many interesting local stories out there waiting to be discovered.

One of the painful realities that faces Kristina is the funding issue. She is hopeful that a non-profit foundation can be put together so that all who need and want her services can receive them. Without an indoor arena or funding, many who could benefit from this type of therapy cannot access it. Perhaps a reader out there can help.

Diversified Social Services medical director, is David Wait, M.D. and the clinic also contracts for services with Bruce Miewald, M.D., Psychiatrist. The clinic is located at 5624 N. Government Way, Suite 7B, Dalton Gardens, and phone 208-762-9890.

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Author info

Herb Huseland Herb Huseland Herb Huseland is known as "Bayview Herb" by fans of the Spokesman-Review's "Huckleberries Online," (www.spokesmanreview.com/blogs/hbo) and of Herb's own "Bay Views" blog (www.bayviews.blogspot.com). He is also a periodic columnist for the Spokesman Review

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