SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The next best thing to a therapist's couch when it comes to easing anxiety, paranoia and other mental health issues just might be a chicken coop.
The staff at Santa Barbara-based Mountain House, a residential treatment program for more than a dozen adults with psychiatric challenges, has implemented a Poultry Therapy Program on its property across from the historic Santa Barbara Mission.
"Our official name is Cluckingham Palace," Dion Cherot said as he pointed to a sign hanging outside a chicken coop the size of a living room.
Last year, a handful of chickens were purchased from Dare 2 Dream Farms in Lompoc. Now, Cherot, who is a client at Mountain House, helps oversee those feathered ladies as Coordinator of Care at the coop.
The 38 year old Santa Barbara man receives a monthly stipend to monitor food, water and supplies for the chickens and caring for them each day.
"They all have names," Cherot said. "I still have a little trouble determining who's who."
Eleanor, Amber, Star, Hogan and Rosa make a beeline for Cherot as he grabs handfuls of dried worms.
"I think it has made me more of a kind person," he said. "I mean, they're so sweet. It's hard not to treat them well."
Cherot said he spends about half an hour each day feeding, watering and cleaning out the coop. He told NewsChannel 3 he enjoys sitting with the chickens and reading and working in the attached art studio, painting to the sounds of clucking.
Staff at Mountain House, which is associated with Crescend Health (previously Phoenix House), say poultry therapy has done wonders for its residents, including Cherot, who's seen major improvements in his depression and anxiety.
"In the beginning I though I had to chase them down to pet them," Cherot said. "I realized I don't have to do that. They already like me."
The cost of the facility's Poultry Therapy Program is roughly $3,800 each year.