Most therapy animals are dogs and cats.
Laura VanDerLind of Shell Beach, Calif., a speech pathologist who works with dementia patients, works with a more unusual therapy pet: her year-old rabbit, Chubby Bunny.
Here, Laura shares her story:
The efforts of pet therapy are well documented for elderly patients in nursing facilities. Pets calm anxiety and soothe loneliness in patients. Greater quality of life and enhanced well-being come from having a pet that gives unconditional love.
A two-pound Netherland dwarf rabbit named Chubby Bunny is an unconventional giver of this love at Country Care Rehabilitation Center in Santa Margarita.
As a speech therapist with a three-month travel assignment in Monterey, I wanted to bring a small pet along, and Chubs fit the bill.
One day I brought him to work and sat him on my clipboard while going to a patient’s session. I’ve always been a “think outside of the box” therapist.
He seemed to like the ride, is a social animal and looks pretty similar to the Cadbury bunny in the TV ads. The patient instantly perked up just seeing him. Getting to pet and touch the bunny created an almost tangible joy. Everyone fell in love with him.
Domesticated house rabbits need no vaccinations according to law and are hypoallergenic. But at any signs of allergy, the bunny is removed from that patient’s area.
I was able to create smiles from end-stage dementia patients who otherwise sat mute in their wheelchairs. One patient learned a song I sang while she pet Chubs, and now she sings the song on her own.
Animal-assisted therapy can be combined with traditional speech therapy as a sensory approach to intervention that creates improved quality of life for patients and a sense of the predictable routine of home. Why do nursing home dementia patients cry and get agitated? They’re confused and scared. They know something is wrong, but it doesn’t resolve. Pet therapy helps improve their morale without making demands.
The staff and administrator love Chubby Bunny, too. He makes the place seem almost homelike for residents while thriving on all the petting and love. The veterinarian said he’s one of the healthiest bunnies she’s seen and his lifespan increases with proper care.
Love appears to be a circle from animal to human and back again.