The rose-topped red hat locked into the stubby horns is the first clue Gigi is not your typical goat.

The second might be her red, knitted sweater and matching diaper with a hole for her wagging tail. 

The fashion-conscious goat was decked out in Husker red Friday.

Three days a week, she commutes from an acreage south of Lincoln to Gateway Senior Living Center to work as a therapy animal. Her job is to lift spirits just by being herself.

Gigi, a black and white miniature silky, often finds herself in someone's lap, being stroked softly and spoken to kindly by elderly residents.

"Hi sweetie. Hello," said Jean Vannice, one of her biggest fans. "I love her. She's so agreeable. So cute. So smart."

Her husband, Duane Vannice, likes Gigi, too. Unable to participate in recreational activities because of Parkinson's disease, he loves to hold her. 

"Well, hello there, rascal," he said as Gigi's owner, Jen Schurman, placed the goat in his lap.

The 90-something man used to raise foxes, mink, chickens and dogs on a ranch in western Nebraska, and Gigi brings back fond memories.

Triggering recollections is just one of the things therapy animals do, Schurman said.

"There's really incredible data for animal-assisted therapy that shows what animals can do and humans can't do for patients."

Studies have shown that goats, dogs and other therapy animals can ease feelings of separation from loved ones, lower blood pressure, heart rate and stress levels and reduce aggression and rage in Alzheimer's patients.

Cathy Betz, a self-proclaimed animal lover, said Gigi helps her relax.

"I get happy. It gets me out of depression," she said.

Schurman, the center's activity director since February, said Gigi does all the work.

"My job is to get out of the way and let her sense what the people need."

She began working with therapy animals about 10 years ago. Gigi, a gift from a goat-raising friend, is her third therapy goat, and one of seven she owns.

Miniature silkies are bred as show animals, and Gigi, who weighs 20 pounds, has a body temperature of 103 degrees -- ideal for warming laps -- and who loves people, is ideal for the job.

"When I am training a therapy animal, I am training for affection," Schurman said.

Part of Gigi's training includes imprinting.

"She has come to recognize people as part of her herd," Schurman said.

The goat does have her favorites, and Jean Clausen is one of them.

"She picked me early on. I don't know why," Clausen said. "I keep forgetting that she's not a dog."

Schurman started taking Gigi to the center in June, and she was an instant hit.

"Animal lovers are animal lovers. As long as it has four legs and they can pet it, they're happy," she said.

Gigi, like all of the therapy animals Schurman uses, was born in April and will be certified by an animal-assisted therapy organization after she turns 1. Schurman also has dogs, a Great Pyrenees named Skyler, who is too big for the center, and a Lab named Belle, who isn't old enough yet.

At work, Gigi follows Schurman wherever she goes.

"If she can't find me, she cries," Schurman said. "Her nature is to stay where people are."

Gigi got her name through a name-the-goat contest. Schurman said it either stands for Gateway Goat or Good Girl, take your pick.

"I think she's pretty cute, and I like the clothing she wears," housekeeper Amy Richardson said. "The residents just love her."

Just ask Ed Bede.

"Well, I'm married. Otherwise, I would be madly in love with her."

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Reach Algis J. Laukaitis at 402-473-7243 or alaukaitis@journalstar.com.


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