Crosskennan was founded in 1996. We work in two areas, rescue and rehabilitation of animals, and the education of the public on animal welfare and care. We provide Animal assisted therapy; working with schools, care homes, youth groups, etc. to learn skills, increase mental wellbeing and provide training.

Through our Animals Helping People programme we have made connections with youth groups, care homes, residential facilities, etc. and we have seen first hand how beneficial animals can be for people in all areas. Unfortunately our project is not funded and we are reliant on the time and money of generous volunteers and supporters as well as generous donations from the people we support and visit.

We have provided visits with animals off site and on, with the onsite visits usually being the most beneficial for clients as they can work more freely with our purposefully built cabin for providing education and therapy programmes.

This project is entirely community led and directly benefits the community.

We have provided visits and programmes to groups and individuals, including;

  • Dementia care facilities;

  • Mixed residential;

  • Special education schools;

  • Disability care day centres;

  • Youth Justice NI

  • Probation Board

  • Mainstream school youth programmes and clubs;

  • Higher Education information and training in both animal care/welfare and the benefits of animal assisted therapies;

  • Direct support to individual parents with children with autism, severe learning disabilities, etc;

  • Day opportunities for other charity organisations and their clients (mencap, Cedar Foundation, Women’s Aid, Positive Futures etc.);

  • Groups from home education ni.

  • Individuals with ASD

  • Autism NI

All these groups and individuals have provided us with feedback, either via our visit feedback form; online via facebook, by email or verbally. We have received requests from word of mouth. All of this goes to support our belief that this service is very beneficial to those who have the opportunity to take part.

Ballysillan Youth For Christ - education
Big Jake getting a bath
Thanks to everyone from Northern Ireland

Animal Assisted Therapy At Crosskennan

Crosskennan Lane Animal Sanctuary provide Animal Assisted Therapy to groups and individuals.
What happens on a visit?

Visits are catered to each group and individual who take part in animal assisted therapy. Most visits are set up as a tour of the sanctuary and a background of the work carried out at the sanctuary. This tour will involve getting up and close with the animals on site. If people are comfortable with birds we work with the hens, handling and petting mostly, this provides an ice breaker as most people have never held or stroked a hen before. It reduces tension and allows people time to relax, it is also a good indication of how they will be with the other animals. If people can work with the hens; horses, dogs, and cats are usually much more mundane and not as scary anymore.

We work with set horses and ponies, depending on the group sizes and ages. Everyone gets an opportunity to groom the horses, learning about the benefits of grooming and also which brushes are used when and where. We finish the session with people learning how to tack up and lead the horses, the commands to use and how to steer animals. If people are confident enough; usually after a few sessions, we can do some ground work exercises, learning about the push and pull and give and take of working with equines. People gain such confidence being in charge of such large animals, and gives a sense of responsibility and self worth.

If people are not confident with horses and ponies we can work with dogs, depending on the group sizes and ages. Everyone gets an opportunity to groom the dogs, learning about the benefits of grooming and also which brushes are used when and where. They then get to be a part of either training sessions or walking the dogs.

It’s this direct contact people find most interesting and beneficial. The animals usually engage with the process, sometimes talking back to the people or simply listening. People can talk to the animals where they may not talk to other people, the animals listen and respond.

Every increased session allows for more one on one, and repeating the work and making connections has been found to be best system. People enjoy working and getting to know one animal, especially as that animal gets to know them too. A lot of this work is best as a system of repeat visits.


We believe there is a true need for repeat visits and have evidence of this.

“On initial visit to one dementia care home we encountered a man who lay across a sofa without engaging at all with his peers or with the animals; most residents voiced or acted in some way with the animals, some showing interest but fear of the actual animals which prompted stories of why they were afraid, others excitedly asked about the animals and wanted to groom them and engage in activities. On the second visit the man sat up, but when approached didn’t acknowledge us. On our third visit he began watching the others engaging, his focus was mostly caught on one of our chickens. On our fourth visit, he allowed one of the visitors who were holding the hen to sit beside him, by the end of the time he had begun to mumble words which left some of the staff astounded. According to staff, the man hadn’t spoken to anyone for nearly two years except perhaps family. When his family visited afterward and heard they were brought to tears.”

“I was diagnosed as an adult as having ASD; as addition to that I suffer with anxiety, OCD and depression. I was very nervous on my first visit to the sanctuary. I couldn’t make eye contact with people or talk to anyone. I didn’t want to stay, but then a head popped over a stable door and pressed their fuzzy nose against my shoulder. Within a few minutes I had to stop someone and ask what his name was; Darkie, I was told and before I left that day I had learnt all about this old pony who was determined to be my friend. I couldn’t wait to get back for another visit. I learnt about the different animals, their names, their stories and what they needed. I groomed and walked the ponies and horses. Working with Gibbs, a big young horse was exciting as he had had little handling and yet he let me work with him, and the staff at the sanctuary trusted me to work with him. The best thing was watching the Horses listen to me, and being greeted at every visit. The animals genuinely seemed happy to see me and this greatly improved my mood every time I visited, as well as increasing my confidence and reducing my anxiety in new situations. I was amazed in the changes in myself and I am so grateful to Crosskennan and the animals that have helped me. They saved my life!”

These are only a couple of stories of people who have benefited from Animal Assisted Therapy. Each story features one person that has an incredible impact on others, in the case of the elderly man with dementia; staff, family, other residents and ourselves. In the case of the young woman with autism; family, the animals, staff. The work we do is not just rewarding for the people we are supporting and/or providing a service to, but ourselves and the animals at the sanctuary.

Spot enjoying some quality time being gr
Having a bath
Jake - May 2018
What animals do you use?

The sanctuary is home to horses, ponies, donkeys, dogs, cats, hens, chickens, and ducks. These animals can fluctuate with new animals arriving and other animals being rehomed. Some of our animals are considered permanent or long term residents, this is because they have been assessed as not being suitable for one reason or another for rehoming. This does not mean that they don’t have plenty to offer.

Every animal that comes to the sanctuary is assessed for its suitability in rehoming, usually after a period of rehabilitation. Not all animals can be rehomed, because of age, illness, or mental or physical scarring left from their previous home or experiences.

Some of these animals prove to be brilliant with people though they may not be suitable to be rehomed. They are assessed and then trained for working with people in Animal Assisted Therapy. Some animals have a natural affinity for working with people in this way. Cats, dogs, horses, and birds are assessed for friendliness as well as their comfortableness with people, including groups, children, etc.  They are trained in handling as well as given exposure training in human contact. Not all animals are suitable for this work and so sometimes we do not have specific animals for people to work with. We also are always mindful of the health and the wellbeing of the animals who we work with and so we always take their health and wellbeing into consideration before every visit; this does mean we cannot always confirm who people will be working with until the day of the visit.

Some of our animals are well known among groups and people look forward to seeing them, even going as far as to ask about them if they aren’t there. Some of the Visiting Animals you may recognise are;



Dora has been in and out of Crosskennan since 2012 when she was first rescued as a expectant mother to be. She has returned to the sanctuary again in 2018 and has since began working with groups, showing such a love for people and patience. ​



Daisy is a special mare who has begun her work in Animal Assisted Therapy, although she currently looking for a home. Daisy has physical problems that prevent her from ever being ridden but she has shown such patience and gentleness that we have decided to train her up to work with people. She is a beautiful big horse and is very gentle around people. She is happy to be groomed and led and will stand to listen.



Riley is slowing down his appearances in helping with visits. He is a highly recognizable figure around the sanctuary and has attended events both on and off site. Riley is semi retired, but if you get a chance to work with him you will be very lucky.

Ernie The Rooster

Ernie The Rooster

Ernie was born at the sanctuary and made his debut into the world of Animal Assisted Therapy in 2018. He lives with his brother at the sanctuary and has a lovely curious personality. He enjoys perching on shoulders and exploring, he is still in training and everyday he learns a little more. Ernie doesn’t do many initial visits due to his young age and inexperience; once people are more experienced with working with the other birds they will get a chance to work with Ernie too. In typical Rooster fashion, Ernie likes to make an entrance and show off!



Thelma came to the sanctuary after her friends had all passed away. She is an ex battery hen and a more mature lady. Thelma is a treat to work with and will allow people to pet her and hold her, if they are brave enough. She has a damaged leg, from an old injury, but that doesn’t slow her down much when she’s out and about. Thelma is an excellent starter hen who is patient and calm.

This is just a few of the wonderful animals who currently work with our groups. We are constantly assessing new animals and reassessing older residents who have been rehabilitated. Every animal that works with the groups are rescue animals.