Very slowly, the tarantula Thekla crawls with her hairy legs over the hand of 93-year-old Anne Hauerwaas. The elderly woman has gathered all her courage. “I used to not go to bed when there was a spider, but it’s cute,” she says with a smile, before carefully taking the tarantula back from her. The 42-year-old offers animal-assisted therapy regularly in senior citizens’ facilities in northern Germany. This time he is a guest with exotic animals at the senior citizens’ and therapy center in Barsb├╝ttel, Schleswig-Holstein, just outside Hamburg.

Dieter Berg doesn’t show any fear either and agrees that the tarantula can sit on his head. “There was nothing wrong with it,” says the 81-year-old calmly afterwards. More than 20 residents sit in a circle of chairs and listen to what Weseloh tells them interesting things about the animals. “Tarantulas have gotten a bad reputation,” explains the animal trainer from Drochtersen in Lower Saxony. But they are no more poisonous than a wasp.

White-crested cockatoo Sammy, who sits on several shoulders and calls “Hello”, provides for cheerfulness. Gerda Hachmann courageously has the Boa Constrictor Lilly put around her neck. The more than two meter long constrictor snake shows its tongue and slowly slides down the arms of the 95-year-old. Hachmann touches the formidable animal with his fingers and states: “It feels good, warm and smooth.”

Exotic animals: “Aha effect is much bigger”

There is frequent contact with petting animals such as rabbits and cats, some of which the residents used to own as pets, says Thomas Wessel, head of therapy at the facility. But the encounter with the exotic animals is something else. “The aha effect is much greater.” The encounter brings variety to the sometimes gray everyday life – especially for people who no longer have relatives.

Alpacas, rabbits or chickens – there are now offers in many places in senior citizens’ facilities across Germany to continue to have contact with animals. But there are still too few, said the BIVA care protection association, a nationwide interest group for old people and people affected by care in Bonn, on request. “Too often, such offers fail because of concerns about hygiene.” However, the concerns are offset by the positive therapeutic purposes.

Animal trainer Weseloh owns hundreds of animals. Weseloh says that it is carefully selected who can be present at such an appointment. If an animal doesn’t show interest, it doesn’t need to be taken along. With the parrots, there are sometimes arguments about who is first in the transport box. “They realized over time that it’s actually really cool to come along.” You get scratched, stroked and also get a treat.

Door opener to start a conversation

Skunk Emma causes great amazement. At the 90-year-old Gisela Schneider, the animal is allowed to sit on a small blanket to be on the safe side, the seat neighbor had previously waved skeptically. “I love animals,” says Schneider, stroking the black and white fur. She calls the skunk, which is only six months old, “cuddly” and says jokingly to the animal trainer: “They won’t get him back.”

After the sitting circle, Weseloh visits residents who cannot or do not want to leave their room with an animal companion. “We then listen a lot,” reports Weseloh. Because often such an animal is a door opener to start a conversation. “Pretty animal,” says Petra Delfs as she touches bearded dragon Horst in her room. The residents are already excited to see which animals Weseloh will have with them next time.