Ann DiGiovanni from Salty Lane Farm in Derry lets Roy Emerson pat "Mickey" the miniature horse last week at the Haven Health nursing center as a part of pet therapy program at the home.

DERRY | Mickey was very well behaved, considering it was his first time.

As he walked toward the back of the Haven Health nursing facility in Derry, he prepared to meet a lot of new friends who had gathered in the warm sun to greet him. He was hoping to receive a lot of pats on his snout during the visit.

Mickey, a 10-year-old tan and white miniature horse, came to the nursing center on Friday as part of the Greater Derry Humane Society's regular schedule of pet therapy visits. It was unique for a horse to pay Haven Health a visit, as mostly dogs are brought out as part of the program, said Donna Barilla, a Humane Society volunteer and pet therapy organizer.

"We try to come here once a week," Barilla said. "The people really love it."

Not only do the Haven Health residents look forward to the pets' visits, the animals benefit, too, Barilla said. It's a mutual admiration society on any given day during pet therapy.

Mickey's owner, Ann Digiovanni of Derry's Salty Lane Farm, said he was being extra good as he made his rounds across the deck to greet the Haven Health residents | especially given that this was his first visit. Having a box of horse treats nearby made for some added connections, as residents would offer the horse a treat from time to time.

Digiovanni said Mickey participates in many horse shows in the area, too. She has owned the horse since he was four months old, and he does quite well in the show ring.

"Oh, he's cute," one resident said as he patted the horse's fuzzy snout.

Another resident, Alice Hunzelman, gave Mickey a quick pat and remembered her own pets growing up on a farm | a chicken named Myrtle and a little mouse. Yet another resident offered his own memories of owning draft horses and taking part in pulling contests at fairs.

Many residents share their memories of past pets when the Humane Society volunteers come to visit, Barilla said. She said new volunteers and pets are always welcome to get involved and learn how to become a part of this program.

For Mickey, standing still for some petting and then moving slowly among the Haven Health residents came easy to him. Digiovanni said she was happy with his behavior on his first visit as a pet therapy animal.

"Oh, he loves the attention," Digiovanni said.

Mickey just celebrated his birthday on Aug. 8, and spent last weekend taking part in area horse shows, including one at the Senator Bell Farm in Chester. Digiovanni said the horse is a show horse, but mostly he's a pet who means a lot to her family.

To be considered as a pet therapy animal, pets should be well behaved, and up-to-date on all vaccinations. Dogs are preferred, but others are welcome including cats, birds, and even rabbits depending on their temperament. Farm animals like Mickey are used when the weather is warmer.

To learn more about the Greater Derry Humane Society's pet therapy program can call 434-1512 or visit the society online at

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