Animals Helping People

Through our Animals Helping People program we promote and provide Volunteer Development, Education and therapy for all ages and abilities.

We have provided volunteering opportunities, Therapy visits and education 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 programs and clubs;

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

  • Direct support to individual parents/carers with children and adults 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

Email to find out more!

Ballysillan Youth For Christ - education

Education at Crosskennan

Big Jake getting a bath
Thanks to everyone from Northern Ireland
Animal care, Equine Care, training etc.
Learning on the job.

All volunteers are trained in basic care of Equines, dogs, cats, birds, etc. depending on their area of volunteering. Some may also recieve training on working with the public, fundraising, finance, marketing, etc.

We also offer training for groups and individuals who would like to learn about the care of animals. Our courses are known for their therapeutic benefits as well as their educational opportunities. 

You can book for training in 'introduction to Equine Care' for 4, 6 or 8-week courses. Courses are designed to provide an introduction to horses and caring from them; from the basic identification to handling, feeding, daily routine, health, grooming. Working hands-on at the sanctuary with the rescue horses and ponies. 

"I was really nervous when I first came up, but excited. I love horses but I've never been around them. Oscar was just the right size for me and I got to groom him and lead him and got him to trot all on my own. I was scared when he made noises at the start but I learned about how to watch their faces and ears. I wish the course lasted longer. I'd be up every day if I could."

Animal Assisted Therapy At Crosskennan

Animal Assisted Therapy Visit.
What happens on a visit?

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 the 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 the 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; in addition to that I suffer from 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 learned all about this old pony who was determined to be my friend. I couldn’t wait to get back for another visit. I learned 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 at 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.