Our therapy rabbit Oreo was taken in by Hop-A-Long Hollow in Norwalk, Conn. as a two-year-old bunny that no one wanted anymore. His name, back then, was Monster. That same year, I was providing veterinary care for a local nursery school, taking care of their classroom pets. Their two elderly bunnies needed to be retired, so I asked Hop-A-Long Hollow if they would do a swap. I took home Monster and his friend, Cocoa.
I spent the summer training the rabbits to enjoy being picked up, held, and petted. They lounged in the sunshine in their outdoor pen while grazing in the grass during the day, sleeping in our family room at night. Since he was going to be with young children, we re-named the black and white bunny, Oreo. The name fit him to a tee: he was the right color, round, and sweet as a cookie!
The bunnies arrived at the nursery school that fall and spent time with the children in the science room. However, they were a bit too rambunctious for the science teacher. The bunny brothers frequently escaped their enclosure and were found all around the school, happily visiting other classrooms. After a year of these shenanigans, I was asked to return them to Hop-A-Long Hollow.
Because rabbits are abandoned at higher rates than most pets, the rescue was full to capacity; there was no room at Hop-A-Long Hollow for the two roving rabbits. I was asked to foster them until they were placed in another home. I took them back, and once again, they were grazing on our lawn and watching TV on the couch with us in the evenings. I kept up their training, so Oreo and Cocoa would be well-mannered for their new family.
A year later, I became an evaluator for Pet Partners. Being a veterinarian, I felt qualified to evaluate all the species they registered, but I wanted to know more. I decided that it would be an excellent experience to go through the testing process myself with a non-traditional therapy animal candidate. Oreo would be perfect. No one had come to adopt him, and he had a calm demeanor and loved people.
We started training together. I bought him a sparkly blue leash and harness, along with a special traveling case. I took Oreo for rides in the car and practiced the “stay” exercise on my children’s laps. The training paid off, and I’m glad Oreo learned to like car rides because our Pet Partners evaluation was in New York City, an hour away from home. We were the last team to test that day. In his typical fashion, Oreo charmed all the volunteers, who had also never seen a therapy rabbit. After we passed the evaluation, we stayed on to allow each volunteer to give Oreo a Cheerio, which he softly licked off their open palms with a tiny pink tongue.
Since becoming a Pet Partner, Oreo has brought smiles to all who see him. His first visit was to an elderly man in a nursing home who needed a friend. I gently laid a white towel over the man’s chest as he laid in bed. The gentleman’s eye sparkled as he grinned at Oreo, the bunny’s wiggly nose inches from his own. They talked and snuggled while I stood at the bedside. It was time to leave all too soon, but I sent a poster the next day of the picture I took of the two of them together in conversation with the positive affirmation, “Some Bunny Loves You,” written across the top. He had the nurse tape it to his wall opposite his bed, so it’s the first thing he sees when he wakes up in the morning.
Seeing a rabbit at school always draws attention. We read on our blanket or large comfy pet bed; everyone passing has a comment or wants to pet the bunny.
The staff members reminisce about rabbits they had when they were young, and the children all want to feel his soft fur. Oreo is very interested in hearing the children read their books to him. I always remark that he’s “ALL EARS!” Oreo usually settles in while the children pet him and read, but occasionally he will try to taste the books and take a small nibble. Of course, we prefer that the children are the ones devouring the books, and we gently redirect. People are also very surprised to hear that rabbits can be litter box trained and won’t have accidents when on a visit.
We are coming up on our two year anniversary, and I can’t think of a more rewarding way to share the love of a bunny with children and all people who need a little love in their lives.
Story submitted by Dr. Elizabeth Lynch