Q & A with Terri Lynn Crutchfield of TLC Therapy Hooves

By: Julie Kirchner

As a part of our Powerhouse mission to Share the Goodness, we love to shine a light on nonprofits out in our communities who are contributing to the greater good. This month, we are highlighting the work of Terri Lynn and Scott Crutchfield and their amazing team of volunteers who help spread joy through their nonprofit organization, TLC Therapy Hooves, in rural Highlands County, Florida. We were grateful to sit down with Terri for a lighthearted virtual Q&A.

What is the inspiration behind TLC, and how did your adventure begin?

“It all started with a little orphan piglet,” Terri says with a playful smile in her voice. That little piglet, a surprise gift for her husband Scott, was later named Precious Piglet. Today, Terri and Scott Crutchfield’s pictorial old-Florida property is home to over 100 animals. TLC Therapy Hooves is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that Terri and Scott created in 2011, with a mission to spread joy by bringing extraordinary (and very well-dressed) therapy animals like pigs and miniature horses to the 17 nursing homes and rehabilitation centers throughout their local area. In addition to carrying out the mission of TLC Therapy Hooves with the help of dozens of dedicated volunteers, Scott and Terri live on and maintain their working farm called La La Land, which is named after their camel—La La, of course!

Can you tell us about a proud moment for TLC this past year?

While any business owner may answer this question by describing a new project launch or an exciting award or achievement, Terri is anything but typical. Instead, she began by describing a breakthrough moment for a woman in a nursing home who had lost her husband and, through trauma and shock, had not communicated verbally in a very long time. While petting the braids of one of Terri’s therapy animals, a miniature horse, the woman spoke for the first time and said, “I remember my granddaughter loved horses.” And the woman sitting next to her said, “Oh! I grew up with horses, too. Did you grow up with horses?” The nurse caring for the two women was just in awe because one of these women had been unable to speak for all the time the nurse had been caring for her. This experience opened up an opportunity for the two women to connect and relate. These are the breakthroughs that define Terri’s definition of business success.

How did you come up with the idea to use pigs and mini horses as therapy animals?

“I would take Precious (Piglet) to the school when I would go and pick up my daughter, Taylor, and all the other kids would just be so excited to see Precious Piglet. And I had a friend who had a parent in a nursing home, and she asked if I would swing by and take Precious to walk around outside for her mother to see. She’s potty trained, so I took her inside. Everyone freaked out, ‘Oh my goodness, a piggy!’ Every time she would oink, people would laugh. And I thought, you know what, this is pretty awesome.”

At that time, Terri and her husband were living in a suburban country club neighborhood, but they decided that with their joint family background in nature conservation, wildlife, and land, they would change their lifestyle and buy a farm. The couple decided to adopt mini horses and then brought trainers onto the property to see if the miniatures could be potty trained and brought into the house, just to test out Terri’s idea. She had conversations with her attorney about liability and insurance. “So, that’s how it went from one little orphan piglet (that lived inside our house, remember) to . . . close to a hundred animals now,” Terri says.

The majority of the domestic animals used in the therapy program today are adopted animals. All of the exotic animals on the property have permits and licenses, and Terri and Scott have received the training from zoos to be able to raise and maintain these animals.

What are you looking forward to in the year ahead? What has your reality been like this year, during the COVID-19 pandemic?

TLC Therapy Hooves has been providing nursing home and rehabilitation center visits since 2011. In January 2021, TLC Therapy Hooves will be going into their 10th year of serving the community and doing free visits!

This year, with COVID-19, Terri recognized that families have been enduring a lot of mental stress. She felt their beautiful facility could be used in a positive way to help the community during a difficult time. “It’s our home and we live here. We talked to our Board and decided that we could offer a ‘Walkabout’ tour of the property for $10 per person, with the proceeds going to benefit TLC Therapy Hooves.” The first “Walkabout” event, advertised on Facebook, had 43 visitors. People took pictures and spent time watching the animals. The next time, they had 50 visitors, the maximum for their agritourism business. When the release was lifted, as long as they met the requirements for sanitization and social distancing, they could proceed. The next groups that came through were of 60 people and then 72 people. Terri started having to put limits on the number again, but they do have 45 acres—plenty of room for people to spread out for social distancing. This gives people time to make their way around safely on the farm and have one-on-one time with the animals. It was such a creative way to help people with a current need for strengthening mental health and being outside to lower stress while also fundraising for TLC Therapy Hooves.

The TLC Therapy Hooves program normally runs from September to May, with every other Wednesday being a service day (to visit a nursing home). With COVID-19, these nursing facilities have been closed to guests for large portions of 2020. Terri is currently planning to bring volunteers back in and to provide training again for a future phase, for example, when the nursing home residents are able to go to grocery stores by using buses that are provided to them. When that time comes, each nursing home group will be able to schedule a time to visit Terri and Scott’s property. There are 17 nursing homes served by TLC Therapy Hooves. This coming year, TLC Therapy Hooves is hoping to expand the program to serve local wounded veterans and local individuals with developmental disabilities. Terri is also considering allowing other nonprofits to use the “Walkabouts” for their own fundraising purposes by customizing the walks with educational materials appropriate to their focuses.

Terri and Scott recently successfully fundraised and purchased an electric shuttle to help transport individuals with limited mobility around the farm property.

Tell us about the community of volunteers you lead.

Terri explains, “Our volunteers are people who are right here from our community. They have a heart for the people and the animals. They want to give back. They are everything from business leaders in our community, to teachers, to nurses, to homemakers. We have men and women volunteering, husbands and wives. There is always something for everyone to do.”

For organizations that work with volunteers, Terri expresses, “Our volunteers share the most precious gift that they have, and that is their time. They want to be here, and they want to serve—but then we need to respect them and to honor them because they are giving something that cannot be replaced. It’s a big deal. They have to be appreciated. That’s the way I feel. They are an extended family. We make it work, and we’re a team. To be a successful team, we all have to share the same mission and be on the same page.”

Terri describes her own feelings about nonprofit work, as she is actually a volunteer in her own right: “To me, there is no better feeling than doing something for other people. I used to have real estate companies . . . and I did very well at it. But I have never received the joy that I have received over the last 10 years of serving other people. I made zero salary,” she says with warm laugh. “I do this because I want to do this.”

Is there a tip you can share for an entrepreneur or business leader like yourself, just getting started on the journey?

“The best advice I can share is you need to be VERY organized and have a good attorney, a good accountant, and a diverse and honest team of board members who are willing to say, ‘I love you, but . . .’ Terri counsels. “You need a support network, especially for nonprofits.”

Terri continues, “As the person at the helm, I don’t have to know everything. It’s okay not to know everything. Nobody knows everything. But it is my job to go and find the person who can help us do this. If I’m not a good accounting person, I need to hire an accountant. You have to figure out where your time is most valuable. Because you cannot make more time, no matter how much money you have. You’ve gotta figure it out. I’ve got to repeat this to myself in the mirror, let’s just say that right now. Make your priorities work for you.”

Is there something you wish people knew about TLC or you personally?

“I’m married to my high school sweetheart. We’ve been together over 36 years. Having a support system and somebody who always has your back, whether it’s your husband or your family or your best friends, it’s very important to have that in any company—but for a nonprofit it is even more so.”

Terri also shares, “Don’t take yourself too seriously. Life is too short. As a survivor of open-heart surgery this last year, I honestly thought I could pull it all off and within a few months I’d be perfectly fine. More than a year out now, I have to say that I am good . . . I’m not where I wanted to be, but I continue to go to rehabilitation a few times a week, and I continue to work on myself. All of us are this way, we all have to work on ourselves. But it’s certainly a little harder than I thought it was going to be.”

Any good book recommendations you could share for our freelance team or the Powerhouse book club?

“I try to keep it lighthearted, because sometimes things will and do get rough. So if you can have something that you can always lean on, that is always lighthearted, it will keep you going. I always read Winnie the Pooh quotes and the life of Dr. Seuss. When I need to look at something, that’s what I’m going to go to. For me, these quotes are always about character and walking the talk.”

Terri says, “My all-time favorite quote, which I gave to my daughter when she graduated, is ‘Promise me you’ll always remember you’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think, and you are loved more than you know’” (Winnie the Pooh).

For more information about TLC Therapy Hooves and La La Land and how you can volunteer or support their amazing work in Florida, please visit them on Facebook.

If you enjoy nonprofit inspiration and advice, follow Powerhouse Planning on Facebook. Do you have an inspirational nonprofit that we should hear about or possibly highlight in a future quarterly newsletter? Get in touch with our CEO and founder, Jessica Bertsch!