Kaiden’s path to recovery began when his GP referred him to EMERGE Leeds due to interpersonal and emotional difficulties exacerbated by substance abuse. This specialist service, operating in West Yorkshire, is provided by the Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, catering to young people aged 18-25 who may be new to mental health services or transitioning from adolescent to adult services.

Following a focused effort with his care co-ordinator at EMERGE Leeds, Kaiden was introduced to Occupational Therapy, where the support of Nicola Binns, Associate Practitioner and Staff Clinical Governor, played a crucial role. Through interventions and a therapeutic relationship, Kaiden’s mental health stabilized, and his overall well-being saw significant improvement.

“Before I came to the Donkey Sanctuary, my life was really unpleasant. I had nothing to live for, nothing to look forward to, and enjoyed no part of my life. Since working with EMERGE Leeds and the donkeys, I feel transformed,” says Kaiden, now full of confidence and positivity.

Kaiden, who documented his journey in a video, aimed to inspire others facing similar challenges. “I wanted to make the video so that other people like me can be helped so that they can see they are not alone, that they can get help, and that things can get better,” he emphasizes.”

Nicola, who is an Associate Practitioner and Staff Clinical Governor at EMERGE said: “Our visits to the sanctuary have helped our clients grow in confidence, engage more, and learn how to build trust in themselves and others. Many find comfort in the calm and accepting presence of the animals It’s great for slowing down and helping us be more in the present.”

The sessions also provide enriching experiences for donkeys, many of whom come to the sanctuary having had bad experiences. Engaging with the EMERGE service users allows them to develop skills that will be important when they journey through to guardian homes, where interactions with various people will be common.

Cathryn Hampshire, Centre Manager at The Donkey Sanctuary in Leeds said: “Donkeys are highly intuitive animals, able to sense subtle changes in their environment; they are able to share non-judgemental feedback in the way they communicate through their body language.

“While individuals can reflect on their own emotions and identify how they can develop life skills, the donkeys learn to trust people again and grow in their own confidence, so these programmes are a real win-win experience for everyone involved.”

The sanctuary, located just a few miles from Leeds city centre, houses 25 resident donkeys, providing expert guidance to transform lives.

Kaiden’s journey, documented since August 2022, reveals the positive impact of Occupational Therapy and the Donkey Assisted Activity Programme. Initially struggling with limited communication and negative thoughts, Kaiden gradually transformed, expressing confidence, assertiveness, and a sense of safety through his interactions with the donkeys.

The Donkey Sanctuary in Leeds, one of six such centres across the UK, not only offers local community services but also serves as a refuge for donkeys in need. The aim is to help both individuals like Kaiden and the donkeys gain confidence and trust, paving the way for a brighter future.

In the end, Kaiden’s journey exemplifies the success of collaborative efforts between EMERGE Leeds and The Donkey Sanctuary, showcasing the transformative power of support, therapy, and the unique bond between humans and animals.