by Jenn Eckert
Rescued. A word I used to think described my rabbits. Little did I know the full impact of that word the day I adopted Betsy and later, Walter, from the Wisconsin Humane Society.
I had gotten Betsy about a week before my mom passed. It was less than two months before my wedding, and my world was crumbling. Every day, as I lay on the couch sobbing, Betsy laid next to me, clearly feeling my heartache. Slowly, with the help of my new sidekick and now husband, I found the strength to begin to heal.
Working at a hospital, I knew about therapy animals, and thought if Betsy could help me, she certainly could help others in need. I also thought it would be a great way to give back to all the people who had helped us during my mom’s time in home hospice. I reached out to the volunteer department, who suggested Pet Partners. Pet Partners is one of the very few organizations who certifies other animals besides cat and dog. We went through the process of certification and Betsy passed with flying colors! We started visiting at the Psychiatric Hospital we worked at, then expanded to other hospitals, nursing homes, universities, hospice facilities, and the Ronald McDonald House. Last year we volunteered almost 250 hours to making others smile in their times of need.
In December of 2013, I had been thinking about getting a buddy for Betsy, but would only go through a rescue and Flemish Giants are rare to find there because of their gentle and docile demeanor. On Christmas Eve, Walter showed up on the Wisconsin Humane Society page with no picture. I knew I had to meet him. When I got to the shelter, he sat in the corner, scared, quivering, and his ear was all blistered, which we think was burned. He was six months old and I knew he had to come home with us. As I was looking through the paperwork when I got home, I noticed he was born on the exact day my mom died — the perfect Christmas gift from her.
Walter’s previous abuse left him terrified of people, so I decided it would be best to let him come to us. Every day, I would lie on the floor and, eventually, he would come out to sniff me. Slowly, he warmed up to me, then my husband, and eventually, people in general. I started bringing him to the pet stores, the lakefront, anywhere I could think of to get him more contact and get him more used to people. Walter has since blossomed and is now incredibly social.
In February of 2016, I had surgery. Walter hopped up and lay on my stomach the whole time! This is how I knew he was ready to be certified. On March 5, 2016, Walter passed his certification test. We now had two of only four Pet Partners certified therapy rabbits in the state of Wisconsin — and two of only about 130 out of 14,000 Pet Partners therapy teams.
Often in doing therapy, you never really know if you are making an impact. You just hope that, if for even a moment, whatever illness or life event that is ailing the people you are visiting, can be forgotten. I have been blessed to have this reaffirmed on numerous occasions.
My most memorable occasion was at a hospice facility. We had received a call the night prior to visit a little girl who loved rabbits and was scheduled to have her feeding tube removed just days later. It wasn’t a day I would normally do therapy, but it tugged at my heart and I knew I had to go. The next morning, while driving to the facility, I received a phone call stating the little girl had passed, and if I didn’t want to come I didn’t have to. I was already almost there, so decided to go. We visited a few other families, and on our way out, saw the family of the little girl gathered in the hall. The mother was hugging someone, clearly heartbroken and sobbing. I tried to avoid eye contact, because I thought I was going to start crying — so many memories of my mom and the dying process were flooding back to me. The mother walked straight up to Betsy, knelt down, put her hands on Betsy’s cheeks and her forehead on Betsy’s. As she continued to cry, the tears trickled from her nose on to Betsy’s. I watched as Betsy just lay down, clearly understanding this woman’s pain, and letting us all know she would stay as long as this woman needed. The woman looked up at me, then back at Betsy, and stated “Therapy Rabbit? Yes. Yes, you are.”
Rescued. A word no longer used to solely describe Walter and Betsy. “Rescued” now encompasses all of the love they have given to me and others, and is the essence of what they do through therapy.
For more information about Pet Partners, you can visit: https://petpartners.org/
Photo credits: RMHC