VIDEO: Exotic-animal farm has big plans

MATT STEINER Updated: March 1, 2013 at 12:00 am • Published: March 1, 2013

Han Solo grunted, moaned and insistently bobbed his head as Patty Crawford fed the dromedary a generous helping of carrots.

Chewbacca was close by, impatiently waiting his turn for a mid-afternoon snack in the pasture adjacent to South Perry Park Road near Larkspur.

“They’re very connected to each other,” Crawford said before pausing, petting one of the 6-foot tall, single-humped camels and noting that both Han and Chewy are “very social.”

That social nature displayed by the pair of camels falls right in line with the mission of Crawford and her husband Kurt.

The couple, along with a philanthropist who wishes to stay anonymous, started the Zoology Foundation in 2010 and have since acquired several exotic animals. And they’ve begun to plan to become a player in the world of animal-assisted therapy for humans.

Kurt Crawford, executive director of the Zoology Foundation, explained that the couple’s humble animal rescue efforts have led to what is now a small zoo.

Along with Han and Chewy, the “zoo” is home to a pair of wallabies named Trouble and Surprise, Mae West the armadillo, a 125-pound sulcata tortoise, a trio of ferrets, three rabbits, two alpacas named Redford and Newman, some fainting goats, two turtles, a couple of pigs and an Icelandic pony that was part of a rescue of about 90 horses.

“What we’re here to do is refuge rehab,” Kurt Crawford said.

He said the nonprofit has been talking with Phil Tedeschi, a clinical professor at University of Denver and executive director of the Institute for Human Animal Connection.

Mobile and tablet readers can click here to watch the video.

Tedeschi, who coordinates Denver’s Animal-Assisted Social Work Certificate program, used to live a short distance from Crooked Willow Farms, which houses the foundation and its animals.

The professor discovered the interesting mix of critters on the 90-acre property and contacted the Crawfords in hopes of forming a partnership.

“We think that Crooked Willow would be a great place to hold classes and learning events and we’re beginning to have that discussion with Kurt and Patty,” Tedeschi said. “They appear to have a pretty thoughtful approach to what animals they’re taking in.”

One example of that involves the armadillo Mae West. Kurt Crawford said he and Patty are looking for a new home for Mae because she isn’t a very social animal, hasn’t had enough enrichment at the ranch and doesn’t fit their mission.

Tedeschi said exotic animals are “often collected for the novelty and the notoriety” and that usually leads to unsafe environments for the animals and humans. He said the Crawfords six zoo-like enclosures are well designed and would be fitting as “education models.”

The professor wants to bring some of his graduate students to Crooked Willow Farms to learn more about integrating animals into their therapy and social work. Tedeschi said the mix of animals at the ranch would allow the chance to determine which types of animals are best suited for human healthcare.

Tedeschi said, “Animals are now in virtually every human healthcare setting.” As an example of the benefits of animal-assisted work, Tedeschi described how animals have helped children who have been physically hurt by people begin to re-establish lines of trust so they can receive proper care.

From the outset, the Crawford’s foundation has been involved with kids. The couple has welcomed several school groups to the “zoo” for field trips in an effort to encourage kids to explore animals and nature.

Kurt Crawford said the long-term plan is to expand the facilities to create a park-like setting for Tedeschi, his students and visitors to have an intimate, hands-on experience with the animals.

The goal for the Zoology Foundation is to follow an example set by organizations such as Green Chimneys, based in Brewster, N.Y.

While the foundation wants to establish its own identity, Kurt Crawford points to Green Chimneys’ philosophy as a great starting point. Green Chimneys’ website says the organization strives for “therapeutic and outreach services, while providing care for animals and nature.”

The Crawfords have the passion to make their dream a reality. But the long-time business man and his wife, who has a degree in occupational therapy and a love for animals, admit they’re sort of making things up as they go along.

“We’re still trying to formulate an actual plan,” Kurt Crawford said. “We’re very new to this.”

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