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Dr. Leigh Atherton, Ms. Cheryl Meola, Gunther, Sammy

Miniature Horses Deputized

DARS added two new members of its rehabilitative services team on Thursday, June 22 when miniature horses Gunner and Sammy were deputized by the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office.

Dr. Leigh Atherton of DARS shared that the pair are part of a new collaboration between both departments and Rocking Horse Ranch, a resort on Blue Banks Road in Greenville.

This new project, known as Building Bridges, will offer therapy to individuals exposed to a variety of traumatic events. DARS will contribute clinical evaluations through the supervision of students and faculty to support the equine activities.

“From a research perspective, students and faculty will be able to participate in study, development, and implementation aimed at examining the influence of a novel innovative therapeutic strategy to treating mental health issues,” Dr. Atherton explained.

Ms. Cheryl Meola, doctoral candidate, and Mr. James O’Geary, MS in Clinical Counseling student, are working on the partnership now. Ms. Meola is trained in Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT). She works at Rocking Horse Ranch and is studying EAT for her dissertation. They’re pursuing administrative approval to begin collecting data in the fall or early spring.

Building Bridges will start as a foundation to build a relationship between those experiencing traumatic events and the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office. However, Dr. Atherton plans to use that information to build a therapeutic plan to assist patients with other symptoms including anxiety and depression.

“From a teaching perspective, we’ll be able to provide experiential learning opportunities to students regarding the provision of mental health services via Animal Assisted Therapy strategies,” Dr. Atherton shared.


Governor Roy Cooper Visits with DARS Faculty and Students

Governor Roy Cooper, Dr. Paul Toriello
Governor Roy Cooper, Matt McClanahan

Rocking Horse Ranch

DARS faculty group photo rocking horse ranch
DARS Faculty & Students visit Rocking Horse Ranch
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