by Lee Juslin
She may only be four pounds but little Nikita, or Niki as she is called by her friends, is a powerful package of love.
A recent college graduate, Cato Johnson shares a house with six other people. Not exactly a situation for a pet. Dogs were not allowed in her rental, and she already had a bird so getting a cat was not a good idea. A bunny seemed like a good fit, and, though she’d never had a bunny before, Cato was ready to give one a try.
Friends warned Cato that bunnies could be difficult as pets, could even be biters, but Cato found Niki, a baby bunny who had been socialized, raised with dogs, was very mellow in temperament, and loved people. Cato says that Niki is even good with kids. “When my little cousins are around her, they often pat her a bit too hard or pull her ears, but Niki never seems to mind. She also endures grooming, which she hates, with good humor.”
Cato had read about pet assisted therapy and decided this was a way she could volunteer in her community. Although most pet therapy organizations don’t accept bunnies, Love on a Leash, a national therapy pet organization did accept bunnies as therapy pets so Cato contacted them.
In order to qualify as a therapy pet, Niki needed a clean bill of health from her vet plus the vet’s testament that she had the required sweet temperament. No problem for little Niki. Then, she and Cato had to complete ten supervised visits. They chose to visit at two facilities for seniors where Niki’s snuggling on laps made her an immediate hit. “Some of the residents have memory issues,” Cato said, “but they almost always remember Niki. I love that!”Like therapy cats, bunnies on therapy visits usually arrive in strollers. Niki, however, prefers to be carried in wearing her leash so she is ready to hop onto the nearest lap. Sometimes Cato and Niki visit on their own and sometimes in a group of pet therapy teams. Niki is comfortable in either situation as other animals, including dogs, don’t bother her. She is more interested in meeting people. Sitting in a lap, Niki will often rise up and gently place her paws on a resident’s chest to get even closer. Perhaps this is the bunny equivalent of giving kisses.
At home, Niki is house trained and has a litter box like a cat. She also has a crate where she is safely confined when Cato is not home. But, when they are home together, Niki follows Cato everywhere. “She knows her name and will often come when I call her especially if I am holding her favorite greens.” The house has a fenced in backyard where Niki can dig and enjoy her Bunny Mansion which Cato found on-line. “I love shopping for Niki but, while she has toys, she really enjoys interacting with people more than playing with her toys.”
Cute as she is, Niki pushes the cuteness factor off the chart when she performs. Using greens and a clicker, Cato has taught Niki to beg like a dog. You can see a video of what may be the world’s only begging bunny here: Niki Begs.Our four-footed fur friends from dogs to cats to horses to even bunnies provide us with a special relationship that, for most of us, make our lives complete. Extending that special relationship to others through pet assisted therapy, particularly to those who are lonely or often forgotten by the rest of society, is so rewarding. As Cato says, “Go for it. It doesn’t require a lot of time, but the rewards are tremendous.”
Check out more of Lee’s articles on therapy animals and other fun stories here at KRL.