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You’ve probably passed the ranch in Makawao a dozen times without realizing the magic nestled on the side of the road. Back behind unmarked fences lies a 33 acre ranch known as Haku Baldwin Center. They don’t advertise a lot and in fact, don’t even have a website yet – but you’ll be amazed at the lives they’re touching with their emotional support animals and the strives they’re making to bring free therapeutic horseback riding to as many families as possible.
“Where special people and animals come together.” Therapeutic Horseback Riding, Pet Therapy & Animal Education. That’s what you’ll find on their Facebook page. Behind the scenes you’ll find dozens of volunteers working with more than 70 animals to bring comfort and emotional support to more than 400 people every month. This nonprofit group relies on a very small staff of paid employees and a very large community of volunteers wanting to make a difference. Whether it’s for the love of animals or for the love of humanity that brings these folks together, the combined result is one of warmth, generosity and learning.
The Haku Baldwin Center was originated in the early 70’s by Ms. Haku Baldwin herself. For the past 21 years it has acted as a non-profit organization utilizing word-of-mouth as their primary means of support. They’re always looking for dedicated volunteers so if you can spare a few hours a week, I know a dozen faces that will smile every time you arrive! They even have a Vacationing Volunteers Program – ask me and I’ll show you where to start!
The Center has two distinct categories – the therapeutic horseback riding and the small pet therapy/learning program. On horseback you’ll find children and adults of all ages and disabilities participating in learning games – from eye-hand coordination of ring toss to mentally challenging color and shape-based puzzles. Each rider has an instructor that tailors the activities to the level and development of the rider as well as two walkers for their safety and one walker responsible for the horse. The idea is to allow the rider as much comfort as required for him or her to stretch themselves, both emotionally and physically. The smiles on the riders are all the payment these volunteers need. It’s contagious and when you look around the arena, the pride on every volunteer’s face states the obvious – the benefits for the riders by far exceeds the time commitment required by the volunteers.
The small animal center is, in itself, another rewarding place to visit. There are approx. 67 animals here that clients can cuddle and pet and benefit from their unique personalities. There are rabbits, guinea pigs, ducks, dogs, chickens and roosters to stimulate the auditory, visual and tactition senses. I hadn’t realized that nontraditional animals, such as roosters, ducks and chics, could be used as emotional support animals… but then Shannon and Chrissy introduced me to Mufasa. Mufasa is a rooster with a HUGE personality. He likes to be in the middle of every conversation and every photo opp. He’s loving and gentle and I doubt he knows he’s a rooster.
Most of these animals are rescue animals and depend on volunteers for the added attention and nurturing that they in turn are able to give to the clients. These animals go on dozens of site visits each month to rehabilitation, convalescent, assisted-care, pediatric, adult-day care and Alzheimer facilities, visiting more than 400 clients. Their calm and consoling nature comes from consistent and repetitious nurturing – from pettings to feedings, these animals have built up a trust with their caretakers and are eager to “go to work” on their site visits. As is not hard to do around these little guys, I developed my favorites fairly quickly – there’s no doubt that Mufasa is my favorite rooster, but Fuzz, a silky, is a close second with his nonstop crowing for attention. I met a rex rabbit names Ikuma that I had a hard time putting down – I was transfixed by his softer-than-silk coat. Then of course there’s the tabletop rabbits – weighing in at about 18 pounds each! Definitely not lap-rabbits! If you’d like to see them yourselves, you can pre-arrange tours or educational talks for your classes and groups.
I hope that you will find a way to spread the word about this hidden gem in Makawao. The services they offer for free for all their clients is a real representation of true Aloha. Mahalo!