Animal Assisted Activities

Who is Animal Assisted Activity for?

AAA is suitable for everyone, including people experiencing mild to moderate mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, social anxiety, isolation, stress, life transitions and recovery. It is also helpful for those with Autistic Spectrum condition (ASC) and/or AD(H)D.

At Birkhill House CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise, seeks to provide benefit through AAA, making it as accessible as possible to people in our community and beyond. We take a tailored approach to individual AAA sessions, having found that some needs are better met through regular volunteering sessions and others with more structured visits.

If you are interested in a regular volunteering slot, visit our Volunteering page here and complete the application. Otherwise, follow the links below to register interest and view prices.

Please read on to find out more about the theory of Animal Assisted Activity and how it works.

Our activities

The guidelines of person-centred theory underpin everything on offer here At Birkhill House CIC, namely the tendency for individuals to move towards fulfilment of their potential given the right conditions for growth. We find that Animal Assisted Activity (AAA) sessions can be beneficial in providing these conditions. Planning AAA sessions is a collaborative process, in which Lara works with the individual or group to comfortably find their own direction.

AAA sessions are flexible and fluid, taking into account the needs of the individual or group, the seasons and the environment. Sessions could involve an afternoon in the company of Ragdoll cats, a walk through the fields with the goats or alpacas, or spending time with the chickens.

Who lives here?

Animals are a great levelling force and provide stable, non-judgement, non-verbal support with no expectations other than a shared empathy that is naturally achieved through quiet, contemplative time spent in their presence. Here At Birkhill House CIC we have Ragdolls cats, Huayaca alpacas, Pygmy and Golden Guernsey cross goats, Castlemilk Moorit sheep, mixed pedigree and cross breed hens and peafowl, small song and ornamental birds and ducks. There is potential for interaction with all of these creatures, depending on the inclination of the participant.

Animal Assisted Activities (AAA)

Caring for our animals is central to what we do here At Birkhill House CIC, and they give so much in return. In our increasingly hectic world, feelings of social isolation, dejection and apathy are common. We were already feeling disconnected from our communities when Covid struck, further fracturing our abilities to feel included and valued in real, face-to-face time. More than ever, as we resurface after restrictions are lifted, we will all need to take a moment to reflect in a calm, compassionate space, particularly those who are vulnerable.

There are proven psychological and physiological benefits from spending time with animals: feelings of anxiety and alienation reduce, heart rate and blood pressure decrease and a feeling of contentment/fulfilment becomes possible. It is estimated that cat owners enjoy a 30% reduction in risk of heart attack, that watching fish swimming lowers blood pressure and that stroking a dog boosts the immune system.

An animal’s presence has the potential to transform not only social anxiety or discomfort, but also anger and introspection. For someone struggling due to personal circumstances, the presence of an animal can allow a focus that encourages curiosity and social engagement. Subjectivity can be transcended, allowing for a more positive focus.

Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT)

Counsellors, therapists and other mental health practitioners wishing to incorporate animals into their sessions should contact Lara to discuss the possibilities.

Treatment goals where AAT in counselling sessions can prove extremely useful are: improving social skills, memory, self-esteem, trust and the ability to express feelings. It can also provide genuine affection and connection, bolster empathic capabilities, ease the client’s approach to coping with issues stemming from grief and loss and help in curbing certain recurring behaviours.

Please contact Lara if you would like to explore facilitated AAT sessions At Birkhill House CIC.


"I’m standing very still in a field at Birkhill House, in the morning sunshine , surrounded by alpacas gently nibbling at the bundle of hay in my arms. I feel a sense of delight and deep calm suffusing my whole body and being. These rather flighty and seemingly haughty beasts have overcome their nervous shyness and distrust of my strange humanness to stop and eat.

To my left, Nina, the most nervous of the gang, hums as she softly mouths the hay. Caramela, to my right, allows me to stroke her long and oh so soft neck and pauses in her chewing, to look with her soft brown eyes framed by long eyelashes, into mine . There’s a moment of communion and I feel deeply present.

Precious and Starlight are at my back reaching round the sides of my body to gently tease some hay from my grasp and somewhere in the corner of my vision I can see Stan, the fifth member of this family of Camelids, completing the circle in which I stand at the centre, hardly daring to move a muscle lest this magic moment is broken."

Clare Stephen, volunteer At Birkhill House


Birkhill House

Earlston TD4 6AR

email & phone

07779 339 653