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City of Syracuse launches program to bring healing power of horses to inner city kids

The Haven at Skanda
The Haven at Skanda in Madison County will provide horses and mini donkeys for inner city kids in Syracuse

Retired Syracuse police officer Julia Jones remembers one summer in the 1960s, when she spent much of her time mucking out animal stalls at Burnet Park.

"It gave me a retreat from a real traumatic childhood, and for the summer, I was in heaven on the west side of the city of Syracuse,” Jones said.

She wanted to bring a piece of that heaven to children coping with their own trauma in the city today.   So, after working with the city’s parks department, that dream has blossomed into Cuse Quines. City Parks Commissioner Julie LaFave said the city has an agreement with The Haven at Skanda, a horse rescue outfit out of Madison County, to make animals available to city children during a four-week program.

“They’re going to bring horses and miniature donkeys out to our parks on various Sundays, and kids with parents or an adult with them can come out and for 30 minutes learn how to pet, groom and bond with these animals, which are rescue animals to begin with,” said LaFave. “So all around, we think it has a lot of potential."

Jones said the impact horses can have on humans is hard to describe.

“I don’t even know how to explain how they reset people. It’s unexplainable in my mind,” Jones said. I can’t wrap my head around how powerful they are. Even the donkeys and the minis. They reset you, and the kids naturally go to that also."

Many children in Syracuse have been facing more stressors than ever recently. Between the pandemic, loss of school time, and chronic violence. LaFave thinks these animals can play a part in easing some of the trauma kids are dealing with.

“Animals are just great because sometimes humans, sometimes people can be fearful of judgement, or nervous or be an introvert. But an animal, you go to an animal, an animals not judging you. And you can learn to love and respect in a way you haven’t before,” LaFave said. “And I don’t think there’s a lot of opportunity for that in the city."

The parks department had to pull back many offerings last summer because of the pandemic,  but LaFave hopes this and some other new programs help kids and all residents rebound.  And Jones believes something like Cuse Quines is just one thing that could provide an antidote to so many kids trying to cope with unprecedented crises on their own.

"We’ve really got to help them reset, and find a way through their trauma, and not give it to others,” she said.

There will be a total of six camps. Each camp costs $5. A fundraiser set up by Jones to help pay for the program has raised more than $2,000 so far. Anyone interested in registering for one of the camps can do so here.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.