After one session with this therapist, you'll never eat a hamburger again. It's called cow cuddling. And it's just what you think. For many people grappling with a range of mental or emotional struggles, these "moo-ving" experiences may help them regain a bit of peace.
At the 33-acre (13-hectare) Mountain Horse Farm in rural New York, you can pet, brush, and generally love up on adorable cows, in a bonding experience that's mutually beneficial. Under the careful guidance of handlers, customers sometimes even embrace the cows, exchanging greetings and affection in ways that are similar to the interactions humans have with their dogs and cats.
Why cows? They're social animals, and often much smarter and more emotional than many people realize.
The farm's owners are quick to stress that they aren't running an expensive petting zoo. The sessions, which run $75 per hour for two people, are typically limited to two per day. And the handlers are careful to respect each animal's space, meaning your experience may vary from those of other guests depending on how friendly and affectionate Bonnie and Bella, the two resident bovines, happen to feel on a given day.
The cow-razy concept isn't really all that far-fetched. Animal-assisted therapy has been around for years, helping humans deal with challenges like depression, anxiety, autism and addiction, to name just a few, though therapists more commonly use dogs, cats or horses. It's said that this kind of "pet effect" boosts oxytocin levels in the brain and reduces stress-related physiological responses in people.
But cows, with their silly googly eyes and love of physical affection, are also good candidates for therapy. Bovines, says the farm's website, have a heart rate that's slightly slower than a human's, and the cows they use in the program have a sweet and calm demeanor that's perfect for meditative moments in a picturesque pasture.
At the moment, there aren't many places where you can cuddle cows; in the U.S. it appears that Mountain Horse Farm in upstate New York might be your best bet. But there are a few places in the Netherlands, where you can get your koe knuffelen (Dutch for "cow cuddling") fix. Belgium and Switzerland have cow-cuddling farms too.