Veterans’ faces lit up at the sound of ducks quacking and alpacas whining, at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, D.C., last month.
Potomac couple John and Jill Phillips have donated their time and services to the retirement home for the past four years, bringing their Squeals on Wheels menagerie of ducks, rabbits, horses and alpacas into the lives of the country's elderly veterans.
"Animals tend to bring a smile to everyone's face," said Carol Mitchell, recreation therapist at the home. "It brings a lot of happiness."
According to Mitchell and fellow recreation therapist, Amanda Jensema, the farm animals give the veterans an experience that is a little bit different from traditional pet therapy. It also allows many of those who grew up on a farm or around animals to take a trip down memory lane.
Clift Mathews, 85, is one such AFRH resident. A retired member of the U.S. Marine Corps stationed in the Pacific during World War II, Mathews is an avid animal lover and once owned three dogs and a goat during his service. He remembers chasing down the goat in the forests of Hawaii in 1946 and keeping it outside the barracks, until hungry company fellows threatened the goat's life.
"I said, 'No, you're not going to eat him,'" Mathews said to his fellows. "'I'll turn him loose before I let you do that.'" And that's exactly what Mathews did, releasing the goat back into the forests of a Hawaiian island.
For John and Jill Phillips, both retired from active duty in the army, stories like the one Mathews tells keep them coming back every year.
"It's the satisfaction of giving something back to the people who gave so much to the country," John said.