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Saturday, July 4, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Healthy celebration


Nine-week-old Maggie Mae, a mental health therapy zebra, and 1-year-old Ray Owens, of Careywood, Idaho, make eye contact as social worker Kristina Nicholas Anderson lifts Owens at Athol Daze in Athol, Idaho, on Saturday afternoon. 
 (Holly Pickett / The Spokesman-Review)
Nine-week-old Maggie Mae, a mental health therapy zebra, and 1-year-old Ray Owens, of Careywood, Idaho, make eye contact as social worker Kristina Nicholas Anderson lifts Owens at Athol Daze in Athol, Idaho, on Saturday afternoon. (Holly Pickett / The Spokesman-Review)

ATHOL, Idaho – There may be other venues where one can get both grey sea salt from the south of France and mental health therapy from a zebra in a single stop, but probably not in Idaho, and almost certainly not on a weekend.

What Athol Daze lacked in pomp and circumstance, it more than made up for in distinctiveness. The small town, located 21 miles north of Coeur d’Alene, hosted its one-day annual celebration on Saturday, and welcomed exhibits from around North Idaho.

In a shaded pen, 9-week-old Maggie Mae, a Damara zebra, posed for photographs as Kristina Nicholas Anderson discussed her groundbreaking therapy program.

“A zebra can never be fully domesticated,” cautioned Anderson, program administrator for Diversified Social Services Inc., a mental health clinic in Dalton Gardens. “But if any zebra can be used in therapy, she will be it. I spend every waking hour with her.”

Indeed, Maggie Mae appeared serene as children petted her mane, and a rock band played on a nearby stage. The zebra’s gentle disposition helps mental health patients who may be reticent to seek traditional counseling, Anderson explained.

“Some of our clients who have difficulty even caring for themselves … have learned to understand her,” Anderson said.

A few feet away, Mark Freber, a former chef, sold packs of fresh homemade teas and spices. He offered 1-ounce plastic bags of garam masala, nigella seeds and ground poblano peppers.

Freber held a 75-cent bag of fenugreek seeds.

“Women use it when they are nursing,” said Freber, owner of the Fresh Spice Market in Post Falls. “It increases milk production by 55 percent.”

On stage, former Republican state representative Kent Bailey started an auction with items that included, among others, a black leather motorcycle vest, a zirconium necklace and two bags of dog food.

“Let’s start the bidding at $10,” Bailey said, gesturing towards the dog food.

While much of North Idaho has boomed into resort towns, tiny Athol remains an out-of-the-way rural town at peace with its sleepy nature. A green highway sign lists the population as 676 people. In 2005, the federal census showed the town had grown to 707.

“I didn’t think it was that big,” said Lewis Miller, a 71-year-old retired carpenter and longtime city councilman who moved to Athol in 1972. “We’ve come a long ways.”

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