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Giant Rabbits Become Therapy Animals For Those In Need

by Jessica Rothhaar
Jessica is a freelance writer for LittleThings. She’s a proud Pittsburgher that loves to drink tea and adopt cats in her spare time. When she's not hanging out with her kitties, Kiwi and Galdalf, she's most likely in a bridesmaid dress attending another wedding. She is a self-proclaimed Slytherin and would like to visit Harry Potter World as soon as possible!

In the summer of 2013, Jenn Eckert adopted a beautiful Flemish giant rabbit named Betsy. Eckert was also a little over a month away from getting married.

It was a very exciting time in her life, when she received some heartbreaking news.

Eckert’s mother passed away right before the wedding. “I was devastated,” Eckert told the Dodo. “She was my best friend.”

For days, Eckert stayed on the couch and mourned her mother. But each day, her giant rabbit, Betsy — who came from the Wisconsin Humane Society — would hop up on the couch and lie next to her adopted mom. She could almost sense that Eckert wasn’t in a good place.

Betsy’s seeming ability to understand her owner’s feelings is how this heartwarming story began. Eckert decided to look into getting her bunny certified as a therapy animal. Betsy had helped Eckert in so many unexpected ways, just like these two mini horses that provided therapy for a special little boy.

Eckert spoke with LittleThings about her desire to give other people the chance to experience the healing abilities of her pet rabbit. Scroll through below for a look at this incredible animal and her heart-healing powers.

Has your pet ever helped you through hard times? Let us know down in the comments!

[H/T: The Dodo]

When Jenn Eckert adopted her Flemish giant rabbit, Betsy, she had no idea that she had just found a best friend that would help her through one of the most difficult times in her life. Just before Eckert’s wedding, her mother passed away.

Betsy helped her adoptive mom through the pain simply by lying next to her on the couch as she cried. Eckert learned from those moments that there was something very special about her Betsy.

Eckert thought if Betsy was able to get her through such a trying time, perhaps she could help others in need of emotional support, too!

Eckert sought a way to get her rabbit certified as a therapy animal through the Pet Partners volunteer therapy program.

In order to get Betsy certified, Eckert had to go through a series of evaluations.

Unlike a support animal that cares for one person on a personal basis, Betsy was going to have to adapt to a variety of situations with a variety of people.

Walter, a second Flemish giant from the Humane Society, joined the family in December of 2013. Walter had been abused prior to living with Eckert, so he was initially very fearful of people. Slowly, with lots of love and patience from his owner, he began to come out of his shell.

“I recently had surgery and he would actually hop up and lay on my chest because he knew I was sick,” Eckert told the Dodo. Just like his furry sister, he appeared to have a therapeutic gift.

Eckert decided to register Walter for pet therapy alongside his sister Betsy.

In order to become certified, Eckert had to take an online pet handler’s course.

The course coached Eckert in how to approach potential patients that Betsy and Walter would visit and taught her what to say in various situations while ensuring her pets’ safety.

To prepare her rabbits for therapy sessions, she would take them outside on walks. This allowed them to experience different settings, and they met lots of people along the way!

Walter quickly learned to love the attention and now even rubs up against people’s ankles hoping for pats on the head.

The next step in the process to get Betsy and Walter certified was obtaining clearances from their veterinarian. In order to pass, the rabbits needed to be up-to-date on their shots and vaccinations, and free from any diseases that could be passed on to humans.

The last step to getting Betsy and Walter certified was, of course, an in-person evaluation of the pets and their handler.

During the test, Eckert and her rabbits responded to real-life scenarios that they may run into at a hospital or an assisted living center, such as rough petting, loud noises, and even other large animals.

“These animals are doing such good work that we want to make sure the pet wants it as much as the handler,” said Mandy Pleshaw, the marketing, public relations and social media coordinator at Pet Partners.

Betsy and Walter passed with flying colors, and both of them now are able to provide individuals with the emotional support they need.

Every time I leave a hospital or the Ronald McDonald House, I sit in my car and reflect on what those people are going through,” Eckert told LittleThings.

“It amazes me that I am let into their lives during such a sensitive time, and it makes me grateful for what I have.”

Eckert and her furry, therapeutic rabbits visit universities, nursing homes, and more!

My hope is more people realize that therapy rabbits can actually make great therapy animals, as they tend to be seen as less intimidating than dogs,” Eckert told LittleThings.

Currently, rabbits aren’t allowed into hospitals to provide therapy for patients, but Eckert is hoping to change that one visit at a time with Betsy and Walter.

You can follow more of Betsy and Walter’s adventures on their Facebook page.

Has your pet ever helped you through hard times? Let us know in the comments.

Please SHARE if you believe in the incredible healing power of therapy animals!