Health

Loving therapy bunnies help Alzheimer’s and dementia patients

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Teddy the therapy rabbit’s first job was tending to his little sister Lulu.

Lulu had been left in a cardboard box next to a dumpster on a cold winter night. “A woman saw the box and opened it to find a beautiful rabbit freezing to death,” bunny enthusiast Jennifer Smith said.

Lulu was brought to a local animal shelter, where – against all odds – she survived. Smith adopted her soon after that, but the rabbit clearly wasn’t well, and Teddy was determined to help.

“Our tiny house rabbit Teddy Graham would spend his days lying next to her pen. He rarely left her side,” she said. “Lulu just laid there in her sick, broken kind of way. Teddy went right up to her and started kissing her face. …Teddy saved Lulu, and Lulu adores Teddy for his devotion to her.”

Now Lulu and Teddy Graham are able to comfort those outside their nuclear family. They’re now certified therapy rabbits, and “they love the work they do,” said Smith.

That work includes visiting nursing home visits, where the rabbits spend time with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.

Smith also brings her rabbits to schools and camps, and she says she hopes to start volunteering at the Minnesota children’s hospital and a local homeless facility.

The number of therapy rabbits is growing, but they are still quite rare.

With training, Smith says she believes that calm, non-aggressive, well-socialized, people-loving rabbits can do a pretty much any therapy job a therapy dog can do – and then some, since their petite size can be an advantage.

“People don’t seem to find rabbits threatening,” she said.

Ultimately, Smith says she’s trying to help both people and rabbits, by showing that all rabbits are worthy of affection and respect.

“Across the globe rabbits are so mistreated. There is a reason why so many animal cruelty groups use the rabbit in their logo,” she said.

“I believe that her journey to us was meant to be,” Smith said of little Lulu. “This bunny was not trash but a beautiful little soul waiting for her chance to help others heal just by sitting on laps and letting people love on her.”

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