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Chilling Out at the Barnyard with Animal Assisted Happiness

No doubt about it. Life is just better with a bunny in your lap.

“The bunny is soft, gentle, calm,” said a young man with special needs named Dayton, smiling widely as he petted the golden rabbit in his lap. “It’s chilling.”

Dayton was sitting in his wheelchair, holding onto the bunny with one hand and petting it with the other at the Animal Assisted Happiness (AAH) fall fundraiser “An Evening at the Barnyard” at Baylands Park in Sunnyvale on Oct. 6.

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“I like animals and to see that they get treated right,” said Dayton, who has a cat named Pepper at his home in Saratoga. “I wish I could have a bunny now.” His smile broadened hopefully.

Others with special needs were holding chickens and admiring three small finches in a new aviary that a Girl Scout troop had just built. The small “villages” for animals — 10 in all — hold goats, sheep, pigs, ducks, guinea pigs, mini-horses, donkeys, alpacas, chickens and doves.

“Almost all the structures were designed and built by kids for kids,” said Vicki Amon-Higa, Co-founder of AAH with her husband, Peter Higa. Their mission is to enrich the lives of youth with needs through barnyard animal interactions, both at the farm and through mobile visits.

Animal care costs about $25,000 annually. The “Evening at the Barnyard” has, so far, grossed about $22,000 towards 2020 care costs. Visit www.animalassistedhappiness.org to “Adopt a Pen” and help AAH reach its goal.

About 180 AAH supporters and youth and adult volunteers attended the “Evening at the Barnyard” fundraiser. Among them was Sunnyvale Mayor Larry Klein.

Klein had presented AAH with the 2019 Mayor’s Award of Excellence on Sept. 14. He noted that the timing for the award was perfect since 2019 is AAH’s 10th anniversary. AAH moved to the park in 2017.

“What they’re doing is very important. Seeing the difference they make to visitors here and the South Bay schools they visit [with animals] is very impressive,” said Klein.

The City of Sunnyvale has a long-term lease agreement with AAH, permitting the nonprofit to operate on two-and-a-half acres of the city park land. It’s an open area with plenty of parking, and it’s away from residential neighborhoods.

“I’m very proud the city is helping out a nonprofit that brings smiles to kids with disabilities,” said Klein, smiling.

The Animal Assisted Happiness farm is in Baylands Park, 999 E. Caribbean Dr., Sunnyvale.

The barnyard is open free to children of all abilities the second Sunday of each month from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is open Tuesdays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. It is open to AAH clients by appointment. Visit their website at, www.animalassistedhappiness.org.

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