Easter bunnies bring healing (video)
"Any glimpse into the life of an animal quickens our own and makes it larger and better in every way." - John Muir
PORT LAVACA - The white bunny moved through the cluster of children, pulling a cart with brightly colored dyed eggs. A sign was posted on the cart: "Here comes the Easter Bunny!"
Dozens of children were gathered for an Easter egg hunt at the Port Lavaca Nursing and Rehabilitation Center on Friday afternoon, but two bunnies hopping through the yard were the stars of the show.
"I touched his tail!" a little boy shouted as Schnee inched the cart forward, nibbling grass while small hands eagerly stroked his white fur.
"I want to touch his nose!" another cried out.
As the boy reached out, Schnee, a rabbit with snow white fur and red eyes, never flinched.
He's used to being handled and petted - Schnee is one of a crew of therapy bunnies that have been spending time at the nursing home since last December.
Shaukat Khan, an occupational therapist at the nursing home, got the idea after he agreed to take some rabbits off the hands of a man who had become interested in breeding the animals but had quickly lost control of the situation, finding that rabbit did indeed breed like rabbits.
Khan's mother-in-law, Toshi Kawanami, had been in the hospital with pneumonia when he and his wife, Gail, brought Schnee to keep her company. The rabbit stayed with his patient, snuggling against her and crawling onto her chest at night to look into her face.
"I really believe Schnee helped my mother get well," Gail Kawanami Khan said.
Khan took the first pair and worked to get them used to being touched and petted. Then he brought them to the nursing home.
Some residents have had trauma or are suffering from anxiety, depression or physical pain, Khan said. Some had lapsed into silence and despair, retreating further and further from the world.
Then Khan put a warm little rabbit in their hands, and they looked at this creature with gentle eyes and felt a thudding pulse as they cradled the animal on their own chests.
"You put a bunny in their hands, and they start talking. It brings them back to life," he said. "The rabbits give them meaning, someone who needs them."
Callie Symonds, a resident who has needed care since she was injured in a car accident as a child, works with the rabbits. There is a waiting list for the rabbits to be adopted as pets, so Khan has allowed some of them to continue having babies.
Symonds has cared for the rabbits for months. She can tell when they're pregnant and when they are about to have babies. A pair of black bunnies know her so well they scamper to her whenever they catch sight of her wheelchair.
On Friday afternoon, residents gathered on the edge of lawn to eat hot dogs and snow cones along with families from the community, watching the children scamper across the lawn.
There was a constant cluster around Suri, a brown and white rabbit in a pink dress that held still as children clutched her in their arms. Schnee sat placidly in the grass as children flopped down, nose to nose with the rabbit, fascinated.
"So fluffy," Abbie Boysen, 7, said. "I want one!"
Symonds watched the children, smiling at their squeals of delight over the rabbits.
"I take care of them," Symonds said, beaming. "I love them."