Zebediah left his cozy bedding behind on Wednesday and opted for a brisk and chilly stroll through Midtown Crossing.
His casual cruise drew plenty of stares, then smiles from curious passersby.
Zebediah, an 11-month-old camel, peered in the windows of restaurants and businesses, and met those on lunch-break walks. Zebediah’s stroll, with handler Joy Bartling, was designed to raise awareness of Scatter Joy Acres. The local farm provides animal-assisted therapy to seniors, veterans, disabled individuals and disadvantaged youth.
Zebediah, who took his first public walkabout downtown last month, drew a crowd in front of Delice European Bakery.
“I suppose I better get a picture,” one spectator said. “How often do you get to meet a camel?”
While many people got photos with the dromedary camel, a lucky few got slobbery kisses.
Spectators let out smiles and happy squeals upon seeing Zebediah stroll up the sidewalk. But he isn’t the only animal from the farm to garner those reactions.
Scatter Joy Acres, a 26-acre plot near 49th Street and Newport Avenue in Omaha, is home to nearly 100 animals, including goats, sheep, horses, alpacas, donkeys and peacocks.
Bartling, a former vet tech, is the executive director and founder of the farm. She hosts birthday parties, recreational outings and corporate events. She also brings the farm animals to assisted living facilities, hospitals and other locations for therapy.
Bartling is trained to handle animals in therapeutic settings by the Internet-based Animal Behavior Institute and has been offering therapy services for 11 years. Animals provide many benefits, such as reducing anxiety and stress, she said.
“Animals are non-judgmental,” Bartling said. “As people work through trials and traumas in their lives, the animals show them unconditional love, and it helps them.”
Bartling makes monthly visits to Douglas County Health Center where she and her animals meet non-responsive patients. She typically brings smaller animals that can be held in a lap.
Eric Zagone, recreational therapist at the health center, said he’s seen patients who haven’t made eye contact with a person in a week do so with the animal.
“You can see a lot of them light up,” Zagone said. “It makes a big difference.”
On Monday, Bartling made her monthly visit to Richmont Terrace, an assisted living and memory care facility in Bellevue. Zebediah the camel remained on the farm during that visit. Bartling was joined by her Chihuahua, Chloe; a 2-month-old goat, Gideon; and 1-week-old lamb, Mary Jo.
Susan Lutz, 67, was first in line to hold the gangly-legged black lamb.
“This one’s got a permanent spot on my lap,” Lutz said as she stroked the lamb’s face.
Visits from the farm animals are a highlight for Lutz, whose own dog is living with her daughter. It also brings back childhood memories of playing in the barn on her uncle’s farm.
Seeing farm animals roam the facility’s lobby elicited a chuckle from Mildred Cracker, 96. Growing up in New Jersey, Cracker said her father wouldn’t allow pets in the house.
Residents look forward to the monthly visits and are curious about what new animals Bartling will bring. The animals have been visiting Richmont Terrace since it opened in May, said Nicole Gundersen, life enrichment coordinator at the facility.
The service offers no shortage of benefits, Gundersen said. It can boost residents’ moods, promote socialization and provide increased mental stimulation.
“Animals are just so loving and they can be so nurturing for anyone in need,” Gundersen said. “They don’t talk back, so they’re really great listeners.”
The trio of animals made a visit to the memory support floor, too. Animal visits help residents in that unit with recall; the hope is they will remember those animals from previous visits or think back to their childhood pets.
Chloe the dog, a frequent visitor to the facility, led the way through the facility. The lamb got some beauty sleep while resting in the arms of residents. Gideon the goat showed his youth and curiosity as he tried to nibble on the corner of a newspaper and later toppled over a faux flower arrangement.
When Gideon clamored onto the couch and hopped over residents, it drew surprised laughter.
“It’s going outside of the box,” Bartling said. “That’s kind of the fun thing about what we do.”