A Therapy Pig Named Buttercup
What do you get when you mix a miniature pig and autistic kids? Buttercup, the therapy pig! This amazing little critter is a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig who visits special-needs children in San Francisco schools, alongside her owner, a speech pathologist, Lois Brady.
Lois and Buttercup work with individuals between the ages of 6 and 22 who have autism or other special needs. When Lois initially started thinking of teaming up with an Assisted Therapy animal, she thought of dogs, which are probably the most popular choice.
However, realizing that some people are afraid of dogs, she knew this might not be the best choice. Autistic children might react negatively with dogs, maybe covering their ears or even running from the room.
Bunnies are gentle souls, but some of the children don’t know their own strength and don’t understand the fragility of a rabbit. So that wasn’t a good choice either.
A Miniature Pig and Autistic Kids
Ah, enter Buttercup, a 3-year-old miniature pig. He’s portable, calm, and so very appealing to the children.
Lois Brady says:
“Students love him because they have no preconceived notion of what a pig should be. He’s so visually curious to them that they’re immediately drawn to Buttercup. Kids who can’t remember how to spell their own name remember everything about him, from where he sleeps to how many siblings he has.”
Buttercup is tough too. Lois says:
“Many of our students have aggressive behaviors. A pig can definitely take a blow — and not turn around and want to attack.”
Of course, Buttercup needed to become certified before he went out into the workforce. Lois and the pig had to take a course through PetPartners, which is a nonprofit that brings therapy, service and companion animals to people in need.
When it was time for Buttercup’s two-hour evaluation, volunteers pushed him and pulled his tail, doing the things that any child might do, do judge his reaction. Buttercup remained calm and passed the test with flying colors.
Lois talks about a day when one of the autistic students spoke out loud to his class for the first time. Therapy works because it takes the children outside of themselves, outside of the world they’re enclosed in, and animals invoke trust and empathy.
I think a miniature pig and autistic kids make a perfect match, don’t you?
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