Debi Pflug, of Personal Ponies, believes that God gives us many blessings – including the blessing of animals. During college, Pflug set aside her dream of being a teacher upon discovering that teacher graduates were unable to find jobs. She switched her major to hotel management and worked in the hotel industry in Washington state for a few years. But God resurrected her dream and gave it a creative twist in His timing.
After Plfug and her husband John moved to Florida, she got a job as an aide in a special education classroom. Pflug enjoyed the position so much that she returned to college and obtained her masters in special education from the University of South Florida. At the same time, Pflug also enjoyed a hobby of showing old English sheep dogs. She began taking the dogs into the classroom and discovered that her pre-k students with speech challenges showed marked improvement after interacting with the dogs. “The dogs could reach the kids in a way I couldn’t,” Plug recalled.
After meeting a new friend at the humane society in Clearwater, Florida, Pflug started taking her two ferrets and dogs into nursing homes. Thus began Pflug’s journey into pet therapy. She got involved with Pet Partners, which was one of the first certified agencies for therapeutic animals.
Pflug saw how animals could interact with people and get them to come out of their shell and bring renewed life. “Animals don’t judge you. They listen to you talk and accept your cuddles,” Pflug said. For elderly people this pet interaction often brought back long-lost memories. For other patients it returned speech and confidence.
After giving birth to her third child, Pflug and her husband relocated to Arizona and she became a stay-at-home mom. Their fourth child was born in Arizona, and suffered medical problems from an early age. Two Christian neighbors prayed with Plfug and helped her through the challenging season. It was through these neighbors that Pflug began to understand God’s love for her. God put her past experiences to work with her daughter as she partnered in her therapies.
Nine years ago the Pflugs relocated to Michigan. With three of their four children now out of the home, Pflug desired to return to her love of working with animals. “I always wanted a horse, and I got a pony when we moved to Michigan,” she said.
Five years ago, Pflug attended the Michigan stallion expo and met the director for Personal Ponies. This national organization offers children who are differently able a small UK Shetland pony at no charge. Their website says, “Personal Ponies is dedicated to making a difference in the lives of children – locally, nationally and internationally.” Pflug signed up as a volunteer and returned to animal therapy.
Two years ago, Pflug became the state director for Personal Ponies. The organization currently has forty-five ponies in service across Michigan. The ponies serve in education centers, therapy centers, and some are placed in homes with children or adults. “We had one young boy with a muscular disease who used the pony to get around,” Pflug shared. “We have Shetland ponies, some mini donkeys, and a couple horses around the state. People aren’t afraid of the ponies. They are also wheelchair height making them easier to reach.”
As Pflug and her husband prayed about their future and how to develop Personal Ponies across Michigan, God opened the door for them to purchase sixty acres in Alto. “We call it God’s property. We desire to create a place where God can work and heal through animals, activities, and relationships,” Pflug said. The farm, which they named Morning Star, will be developed with the intention of having ponies on site, opportunities for therapy, and a community center. “The goal is to develop a couple certified teams to get out and do therapy in the children’s hospitals and the VA hospitals,” Pflug said.
Plans for the farm also include a course for children to drive carts that the ponies pull, an agility course, and a variety of activity options for kids and adults who are specially abled. “Long term, we’d love to have an indoor arena too. It’s been incredible to see how God has brought people to us with just the right skill sets to help out,” Pflug said.
Through it all, Plfug is relying on God and trusting Him to provide for and grow the organization. “I see the need and how animals can connect with people,” Pflug said.
For more information about Personal Ponies and how you can volunteer or obtain the use of a pony for someone in need, please see the contact information below.
At a glance:
Name: Debi Pflug
Family: husband, John; 4 children ages 17-24
Organization: Personal Ponies
Title: Michigan State Director