by Lee Juslin
Can you imagine anything more soothing than stroking soft bunny fur when you’re sick or lonely? That’s exactly what China provides when she goes on her therapy visits to a Veterans Hospital or an area nursing home.
Blanca, who adopted China from a bunny rescue, describes her as a CA mix, “She has the sweetest temperament and she is content to be rubbed and cuddled for half an hour or more.” At the Veterans Hospital where China and Blanca visit amputees and hospice vets, China has been a revelation because most of the soldiers had never seen a domesticated bunny but knew only wild bunnies. As one veteran said to Blanca, “We thought we’d seen everything. Sure didn’t know you could train a bunny.”
At first the veterans were a bit unsure about China, but as they’ve gotten to know her they’ve become real softies with her. In fact, one veteran who is a favorite of China’s doesn’t hesitate to instruct the other vets on how to gently hold and pat her. And, China, for her part, does have her favorites. Blanca told, “I can always tell when China really likes someone, even though she doesn’t purr like a cat. With her favorites, she’ll relax on their bed or in their laps and just want to stay with them.”
At home, where she is an only bunny, China continues her therapy work with some neighborhood children who often come to Blanca’s house to play and cuddle with the bunny. One little girl is a favorite of China’s as she is very gentle and quiet with her and because she gives China lots of pats in her favorite place: between her ears. Together they often play hide and seek. China also likes playing with her plastic ball which she kicks around the house and, for treats, Blanca gives her willow toys to chew. China is litter box trained and has the run of the house as she never chews or destroys anything other than her own toys and treats. But, less you think China is perfect, she does have a bit of a temper. “Once,” said Blanca, “I was late with her dinner. She came to find me, stood in front of me, and stamped her foot. I make a real effort to see that dinner is on time now.”
Therapy certification for a bunny is similar to the requirements for a cat. First, China’s personality had to be evaluated by her vet. A bunny must like people, be able to sit quietly for long petting sessions, and have no inclination to nip. As expected, the vet pronounced her a friendly, people-loving soul who would be a good candidate for therapy work. Next, China and Blanca have to complete ten supervised therapy visits. To date, China has done nine visits, some with her good buddy Moorea. When she completes her last visit and becomes certified, Blanca and China intend to continue their visits to the vets and the nursing home, but also want to add participation in a reading program at their local library.
China, like therapy cats, visits in her own stroller and wears a custom-made pink harness with a matching leash because Blanca wasn’t able to find a suitable harness in the stores. Bunnies especially need a calm, quiet environment as they can have a heart attack from loud noises and, though they don’t bark or meow like dogs and cats, will unleash a loud scream at rough handling or if they are uncomfortable or in pain. Blanca says she has only heard the scream once, but that it was quite impressive.
Whether playing with neighborhood children or cuddling with servicemen at the Veterans Hospital, China, like all good therapy pets, is a bundle of love and comfort.