Meaningful birds stolen from Raleigh non-profit helping kids with special needs

A North Raleigh non-profit is asking for the public's help after several stuffed birds that were used on a sensory nature trail were stolen.

Helping Horse Therapeutic Riding Program, off of Shooting Club Road, serves children and adults with autism, Down's syndrome, PTSD and other special needs.

On the program's bird trail that winds through the woods on 13 acres of property, eight birdhouses are hung high enough for riders to reach while atop their horse.

Inside each birdhouse, is a different stuffed bird that makes a chirping noise when squeezed.

"They practice guiding their horse close enough to the birdhouse where they can reach it, make their horse stop," said Toni Hofsheier, a Helping Horse coordinator and instructor. "They get the birds out and they squeeze them and make the sounds. We go over what colors the birds are, what kind of bird it is."

Hofsheier said children on the autism spectrum benefit greatly from the predictability and repetition of finding the birds tucked away in their birdhouses.

But on Easter weekend, someone stole seven of the birds from their houses, leaving children disappointed to find the houses empty on their ride the following Monday.

"The little boy's name is Brody and he's been riding with us for a long time and the bird trail is his favorite trail," said Hofsheier. "So he was really sad that the birds were gone."

Volunteers replaced five of them, but the next weekend, six more were taken.

Volunteers ended up finding two of the birds on the ground along the trail, but are at a loss as to who would be behind the theft.

"We're not real sure why somebody wants these things because they're really nothing of value to anybody but us," said Hofsheier.

Helping Horse staff are now locking the stuffed birds away every night. They're asking whoever is coming on their property to steal to stop.

Anyone who has information that could help the staff locate the stolen birds should contact the program's coordinator.
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