With a white body, sable-hued head and white fringe above her gentle eyes, Pumpkin the miniature horse only stands 27 inches tall. Though she’s small, the certified service and therapy horse has a huge capacity to comfort people.

Every fall, Pumpkin participates in the blessing of the animals at Faith Lutheran Church, Chico, Calif., with her owner, Laura Skinner. But last summer, Pumpkin became a blessing to others in the wake of disaster.

In late July, the Carr Fire ripped across northern California, scorching more than 200,000 acres of land. When Skinner heard some 38,000 people were evacuated from nearby Redding, Calif., she was inspired to respond.

She arranged for Pumpkin to visit to The Inn at the Terraces of Chico, a senior living community temporarily sheltering 100 evacuees from senior facilities in Redding. Many of the seniors were feeling frightened, lost and bereft. Those with Alzheimer’s or dementia were particularly distressed by the sudden move.

“Their anxiety seemed to disappear and they felt comforted.”

On the day of the visit, “People were asking, ‘How do I get home?’ and “When can I go home?’ ” Skinner said. “Pumpkin made them smile and they got to forget how bad things were.”

As the evacuees petted, brushed and hugged Pumpkin, The Inn’s lifestyle director Amanda Brogan noticed their fears lift. “They were more at ease. There was just joy on their faces. Their anxiety seemed to disappear and they felt comforted,” she said.

Skinner believes Pumpkin is able to recognize those who need extra help. “There are some people that she feels just need more attention,” she said. “She’s calm and sweet and lays her head on their shoulders.”

“God sent Pumpkin to help me and other people”

Skinner is well acquainted with Pumpkin’s ability to bring joy into people’s lives. Ten years ago, when she was recuperating from a fractured hip and numerous surgeries, Skinner purchased Pumpkin from a local farm. At the time, Skinner was unable to walk and battling depression. She said Pumpkin helped her learn to walk—and to smile—again.

Today, she regularly takes Pumpkin to visit schools and assisted living facilities, and Pumpkin is well-known at Faith, where Skinner and her husband are members.

“She’s just the calmest and most gentle animal I’ve ever met. She stands by Laura during the service and listens attentively to my sermons,” joked Ben Colahan, pastor at Faith.

Colahan said Pumpkin and other animals play an important role in life and in the church. “Animals very much remind us of God’s love for us. They calm us when we are troubled and bring us joy when we are sad.”

Skinner doesn’t know where she’d be today without Pumpkin.

“Pumpkin came into my life at a low spot,” Skinner said. “I believe God sent Pumpkin to help me, and eventually, to help other people.”

 Annemarie Mannion
 Annemarie Mannion is a freelance writer who enjoys writing about people, the challenges they face and how they overcome them. 

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