by Diana Hockley
Healing Whiskers is the blog of Abby Chestnut from Rome, Georgia. On it she shares about her therapy rat Oliver and their adventures as a therapy team. We took a moment to chat with her about having a therapy a therapy rat. Abby is also a fellow blogger with Blogpaws!
KRL: Therapy animals are very special and greatly appreciated in nursing homes, hospitals, and particularly hospices. What was the catalyst for the creation of Healing Whiskers, and how and when did it come into being? Was there a particular event or incident which led to your mission?
Abby: A few years ago, I had my first two rats, Everett and Delmar, and I would take them out as often as I could. Pet friendly events don’t exclude rats, right? But at these events we would obviously get a lot of attention. Answering questions and seeing the smiles on peoples’ faces really made me happy, and I felt we were making the world a better place by challenging the stigma that rats are nasty animals. Coincidentally, at one of these events a local therapy group was there, and I asked them if they registered rats for therapy animals. The organization is a part of a group that registers many different animals, including rats. So from that day forward I was determined that my next rat would be trained to be a therapy rat.
KRL: What were the first therapy animals you had? Has it always been rats, or do you have other animals on your team?
Abby: Oliver is my first therapy animal, and I hope to continue with other rats in the future. I always wanted to do therapy work with one of my dogs, but they aren’t therapy dog material, and honestly being part of a therapy rat team is just so much fun.
KRL: How does the local community regard your activities and are they supportive? Do you get referrals from medical professionals or others?
Abby: Oh, they are very supportive! Compassionate Paws, our local therapy animal group, visits all over our town of Rome, Georgia.
KRL: Do you have many volunteers to look after therapy animals and how do you recruit them?
Abby: We do have many therapy animal teams, but are always looking for more. Rome is pretty small, so word of mouth or actually meeting us at an event is where people learn about Compassionate Paws.
KRL: What are the special challenges of training therapy animals, and do they have to be registered with a local authority in order to visit medical facilities?
Abby: For Oliver, his training started immediately after I got him. Potty training, getting used to all kinds of smells and sounds, being fine around dogs, teaching him to stay in a basket, and many other things. The training for therapy animals of all species is similar to that of a service dog, but they don’t have to be trained to do a certain task. They have to be calm during all kinds of situations. For teams who visit medical facilities, they have to go through the hospital’s volunteer program. Usually the animals get their own badge and everything!
KRL: How many animals have used in therapy work so far? And how did you come to use rats in therapy work? In particular, how do people react to therapy ratties?
Abby: Oliver is my first, but I hope to train many therapy rats in the future. Sadly, their lifespans are only two to four years, and Oliver is 1½. In about a year I will start the journey again while documenting it on our blog. Compassionate Paws uses the organization Pet Partners to educate and register their teams, and there are only a handful of registered therapy rats out there in the United States. Ninety percent of the time I get surprised faces; people are just mesmerized by Oliver. It makes my day! We do get the occasional person who is completely opposed to rats and won’t even take a gander at him, but it is all good. I never push Oliver on anyone who doesn’t want to pet him.
KRL: Do you have some anecdotes to relate about how people have received Oliver? Does he have his regular clients?
Abby: We see a lot of college students when we go to distressing events during finals week. These are Oliver’s favorites! With the three colleges we go to, and how often we go, we do get our regulars. It makes them so happy to see him again. Once, we were in a building going to where the event was taking place, and I looked behind me. Someone was running toward me. Turns out, it was a student who met and fell in love with Oliver a few months earlier. She literally dropped all her things at the door and ran to find us once she heard someone mention “therapy rat.”
KRL: What are your needs right now and how can people help?
Abby: Our local therapy group, Compassionate Paws, can always use donations, and I am accepting donations for Healing Whiskers to support my therapy work with Oliver and future rats to help buy equipment, run our website, arrange for promotional items, and various expenses with therapy work.
KRL: Do you have Pay Pal and credit card facilities for donations for veterinarian visits or equipment?
Abby: For Compassionate Paws, you can go to www.romepaws.org, and there is a donation button on the left-hand side. For Healing Whiskers, you can send donations through PayPal to abbychesnut@gmail[dot]com.
KRL: Is there anything you would like to add?
Abby: Oliver has brought smiles to so many peoples’ faces and he really enjoys his work. I love seeing him brux and boggle when he is being loved on by others. We have definitely changed the minds of many about rats and we shall continue to do so!
KRL: What is your website URL, Facebook, Twitter, and Blog details?
You can check out more animal rescue & pet related articles in our Pet Perspective section.