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  • Shawn Hayden

Serendipity

The universe has a way of telling us that some things are just meant for each other. Peanut butter and jelly, burgers and fries, bacon and.....well, almost anything. Who knows how these things first got paired? Most likely, it was either fate or a fortunate accident that launched them into the beloved combinations they are today. Sometimes this good fortune extends beyond the kitchen and out into the world at large.


It was one of these chance encounters and a phone call between strangers that first introduced us to the incredible work being done by the Newfoundland Pony Conservancy Center. Just a few minutes into that first call with Emily Aho, the Executive Director of NPCC, it was clear that the possibilities for our programs to collaborate were endless. Her passion for this amazing breed, the urgency of her mission, and her earlier career of caring and compassion for people inspired us and we immediately scheduled a time for some of our staff to meet her and her ponies in person.


Michelle Dunn, CARC (Dir. of Community Engagement), Katie Follett, CPS (Therapeutic Farm Coordinator), and Shawn Hayden, LADC-II (Chief Operating Officer) made the short drive north to visit the center in person. Upon arrival, we were greeted by Emily and George Aho and learned about the history of the Center and the endangered breed that it aims to preserve. We followed that up with a tour of the site and a meeting with the stars of the show....those amazing Newfoundland Ponies! Hands down, these were the warmest, most welcoming, and friendly equines any of us had ever encountered. As we walked on our tour, we listened as Emily and George told us the story of the Newfoundland Pony and the incredible service and sacrifice these animals performed for the early settlers of Newfoundland, and how new technology and modernization had lead them nearly to the point of extinction. While we listened, the ponies showed us why they are so beloved as they investigated us from head to toe and displayed the playful and kind personalities they are cherished for. We knew right then and there that we wanted to help save these animals and that they had the exact personality that would be incredible for our program and the people we work with.


Our residents come to us because they need help addressing their substance use disorders and other mental health disorders. They choose The Carl E. Dahl House for support because of how we combine traditional clinical services and our therapeutic farm and livestock rescue program. This approach makes us very different from what most people find in the addiction treatment world. While these folks may come equipped with eagerness to work with our animals during the course of their care, many do not have experience around horses and other large animals. The size, gentle personality, and natural desire of the Newfoundland pony to be near (often VERY near) people make them a perfect fit for working with our residents. So often, learning to create emotional bonds, connection to a community, and learning to care for and receive care from others, are the crucial building blocks of a successful life of sustained recovery.


When Emily and George told us about their urgent need to find new foster homes for several of their ponies, and we told them about the opening of our newer and bigger farm, the writing was on the wall. NPCC and The Carl E. Dahl House were meant to work together! From there, things moved quickly and in early September 2021, the first group of ponies came to live at our new site, the Carl E. Dahl House at Evergreen Grove in Gardner, MA. From the moment they arrived, the ponies fit right in with the many goats, alpacas, donkeys, horses, pigs, ducks, chickens, and many others that are part of our farm. We are so excited and proud to help NPCC fulfill its mission and are grateful for how they will help us in achieving ours by improving the lives of people in early recovery from substance use and mental health disorders.


GAAMHA, the parent organization for the Carl E. Dahl House and NPCC are both 501(c)3 non-profit organizations that could use your support in this synergistic effort. Please click the links to either (or both!) organizations to learn about opportunities to support this effort. We will need all the help we can get if we are going to be on par with peanut butter and jelly!!


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