Koda the Samoyed

Retreat Hosts Hayley and Mac have recently welcomed a number of new pets into their home. Additions to the whānau are Molly the kitten, Scribbles the fish, and a handful of aracuna chickens. They join Koda and the lambs as essential Retreat joy-bringers.

As someone who lived on the Retreat Site back in the day, I feel that it is worthwhile reflecting on the importance of pets within this support environment. It is designed to be a place of tranquility, situated out in nature, its rural location a material manifestation of the idea of ‘getting away from it all’. Guests are encouraged to take a step back from social media and other such digital pursuits – alongside all of the fast-paced, stress-inducing, productivity-driven mentality that comes with it – and to absorb the natural beauty of the Retreat (as well as taking part in an amazing array of workshops, making progress with their support worker, and enjoying a communal evening kai).

One of the resident lambs

An essential aspect of this natural beauty is the resident animals at the Retreat. They bring a unique, invaluable dimension to this time out space. Perhaps you’ve heard of cases of dogs being brought into hospitals or universities to relieve anxieties; the concept of equine therapy; or even the existence of ’emotional support pets’. There’s a reason that these exist! Animals provide a kind of comfort that humans simply cannot manage. There’s that aspect of non-judgement; the humbling joy they seem to feel at the simplest things; and the perfect example they set of ‘slowing down’. We used to have ducks at the Retreat, and they would spend the entirety of their day waddling between cycles of foraging, paddling and grooming, perfectly content (I think we all would be, with that life!).

Animals can also be so reflective of us humans. When we had goats at the Retreat, the grass immediately outside of their enclosure would always be neatly trimmed down to the root, as they would frequently attempt to reach the patches of grass just out of reach – neglecting the wealth of luscious green that surrounded them. Similarly, after a day spent tethered outside of their enclosure, eating as they pleased, the goats would always strain desperately for a few final bites of grass when returned home. One of our dogs at the Retreat, Tui, had an odd partiality for apple cores; the other one, Miti, felt no such affection for them, but would do his best to stomach them if it meant that Tui missed out. They provide an opportunity for hilarity and reflection upon our own occasionally absurd thought processes.

But I digress. The therapeutic power of animals is not something to be underestimated. So often, during my time at the Retreat, you would see it firsthand through our resident cats – Bella and Odin. They continue to live at the Retreat, and seem to have a knack for turning up when a bit of support is what’s needed. Countless Guests have expressed how Bella showed up for a cuddle, or slept on their bed when they were feeling particularly alone, scared, or upset. Even Odin, despite his gruff act, selects the occasional Guest that needs him. They seem to ‘get’ their role – and we know that the Retreat would not be the same without such beautiful, simple facets of support.


Bella loves to curl up on people’s laps!

Odin can get very cuddly, when he feels like it!

And so it is with delight that we welcome more animals to the Retreat whānau. Every pet has its own therapeutic value; whether it’s Koda the dog’s zest for life, boundless joy, and impossible fluffiness; the soothing feeling of watching Scribbles the fish explore its tank; the joy brought on by watching the lambs spring through life; the simple hilarity of observing the aracuna chickens in all of their absurdity – things simply don’t feel as bleak when you’re faced with those gentle scenes of pecking and clucking; the adorableness and cuddly nature of Molly the kitten; or watching the animals interact with each other – they truly contribute towards providing a calming ‘space to breathe’. At Taranaki Retreat, the pets are not just for the hosts’ joy. No, they are part of the team, and their support work makes a major impact.

Scribbles the fish

Molly’s already settling into her role of being adorable and friendly

The new aracuna chickens