Four-legged therapy prances at Westport Estates

Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Patty Rebuck hold her miniature horse, Chico, still as Jo Malter reaches out to stroke his mane. (Maggie Menderski/Democrat-News)

A miniature horse butted his nose against Jo Malter's walker, as she reached out to pet his mane.

The horse, a pet of Patty Rebuck's, visited the assisted living community for the second time on Monday, Aug. 22. Two years ago Rebuck and her dachshund Cocoa began visiting retirement homes for pet therapy. Since then she's added six other dachshunds and two miniature horses to her team of four-legged volunteers.

"We kept getting more dogs because I wanted to do it more," she said. "So now we have seven."

Pet therapy provides company for those who may not have regular visitors and may also stimulate reactions in those typically less communicative. Rebuck has witnessed her animals completely alter the demeanor of someone.

"I'd put the dog on their lap and let them pet it," Rebuck said recalling one rewarding moment in her volunteer work. "All of a sudden, they would whisper in their ears, and that's the only talking they ever did."

When Rebuck first started volunteering, Cocoa went through a pet therapy training program and had to pass a test in Columbia to be certified. Now he has a diploma in pet therapy and is recognized as a K-9 good citizen. The friendly dogs sit with the residents, roll over, play dead and jump for treats, while the miniature horses allow the residents to pat their manes.

"A lot of them come in here, and they can't have their pets with them," she said. "They miss their pets so much... I feel good being able to give them a piece of our pet."

On Monday, the two stunning miniature horses stood within reach of the residents, as Rebuck held the reins. She had given the boys a bath just the night before in preparation for the visit.

"Wait till you see them in the winter time," Rebuck said. "They look like woolly mammoths."

Rebuck rescued the blonde horse, Chico, and the chocolate horse, Buckeye, from an auction two years ago. A breeder had tried to sell them because they weren't the right size for jumping and showing. When bids were low, the horses found a place with Rebuck doing pet therapy.

"Goodness they're pretty," said resident Dorothy Gray. She stepped forward, petted Chico's blonde nose and smiled. "You are very handsome boys."

Some nervously came forward, while others such as Malter eagerly approach the roughly 150 pound horses.

"I had a little one like that growing up," Malter said as she reached over her walker toward the horse. "I'm a country girl."

The next afternoon Rebuck left horses at home, and brought three of her dachshunds to see the residents.

On three brightly colored leashes, she led Cocoa, Lacy and Duffy into the living space at Westport Estates.

Cocoa nestled into resident Harry Porter's lap, while Lacy, the smallest dachshund, gently pawed at his chair. Soon he made room for both of the animals to sit with him.

"With seven of them we need to share their love," Rebuck said.

Rebuck volunteers her time and resources to bring these animals to the elderly in the community.

She strives to visit retirement facilities such as Westport Estates at least once a week. Anyone interested in sponsoring pet therapy or obtaining more information may contact her at 660-859-2058.


Contact Maggie Menderski at

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