Therapy pig helping those with disabilities in South Jersey

BURLINGTON, N.J. -- You've heard of therapy dogs, even therapy horses - but how about a therapy pig?

A little guy named Maximus - Max for short - is New Jersey's first trained therapy pig. He belongs to Resources for Independent Living, a nonprofit that offers diverse mental health and life skills programs in Burlington, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem Counties.

Max's job is to work with clients of all ages.

Joe McKeever from Resources for Independent Living explains, "They'll open a hand, we'll use a Cheerio, and he'll come up and he'll just sit in their lap. And just by being there and holding him it brings a calmness to that child."

Courtney Corsoe of Beverly, New Jersey says, "If somebody's feeling down, an animal is a huge distraction and makes you feel a lot better. Me seeing Max today? Very exciting."

Tim McGill of Lumberton tells us, "He scared me at first. But then he's cute, and I was surprised... Yeah, I would like him around here more."

Max has been doing this for about a month, and seems to like the interaction and the attention. No doubt about it he's a real ham.

RIL Executive Director Lisa Killion-Smith explains, "Our goal is to take him out to schools. So he's scheduled to go to the Salem County Special Services School soon, and eventually we'll start bringing him to nursing homes."

He loves to be bundled up - can you say pigs in a blanket?

The little porker works out of RIL's Vineland office. He even has his own cubical.

Max goes home each night with Joe McKeever who has five kids.

McKeever says, "He loves to be coddled and have his belly scratched. So he sees kids during the day and at home he has my family."

New Jersey Human Services Commissioner Beth Connolly says, "I think bringing in the pig is just something new and cutting edge... thinking outside the box."

Therapy animals have been successful reaching people with Alzheimer's, autism and all kinds of disabilities. And while therapy dogs are more common, Max is proving you don't have to have a fluffy coat and paws to make a difference.
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