Since the day our son was diagnosed as autistic we have been looking into obtaining a service animal. The first option that ocurred to us was to get a service dog. After looking into it for several months we were more than a little shell shocked at the costs associated. There was no way we could afford $25,000 upfront for a dog not to mention the follow up training and costs associated with maintaining a certification. We still felt our autistic children would benefit from a service animal and kept researching. We started searching for therapy animals instead of service animals. The difference? A service animal is trained to preform actions that the person with a disability can not do themselves. While therapy animals are not limited to working with just people with disabilities and their functions are not legally defined. Therapy animals are less regulated and less expensive. Since we did not intend for the animal to go to schools or other public places having the certification as a service animal was not a deal breaker for our family.
While doing our research I stumbled across an article about therapy rabbits and became fascinated. Our oldest autistic daughter has been obsessed with rabbits since she was 2 yrs old. She carried around a giant stuffed rabbit for years and is still extremely attached to it. Seriously don't touch the stuffed rabbit. Getting a therapy rabbit seemed like a natural fit for our family.
We were extremely blessed to find a rabbit for sale for $20 including the hutch and a few weeks worth of food. It didn't take long for Ralph the rabbit to join our family.
Therapy rabbits are far from mainstream and Ralph was not trained as one before we received her. What makes a rabbit a therapy rabbit? Well what makes any animal a therapy animal? Therapy animals are there to love on, calm anxieties, and give confidence. I saw no reason why Ralph couldn't be classified as a therapy animal. I started working with her several times a day building up her tolerance to being handled and loved on. It didn't take long before she was comfortable being out of her hutch and loved on. I helped the kids learn how to handle her and take care of her daily needs. We have not certified her as an official therapy animal since we do not intent to "take her on the road". She however is functioning as a therapy animal for our family quite well.
So how has Ralph helped our autistic children?
- Cuddles. Lots and lots of cuddles. When children are overwhelmed and need time to calm down and reset their systems cuddling with a rabbit is just the ticket. There have been many times when our son was overwhelmed and we were unable to calm him down or keep him safe. Ralph has hopped in to the rescue. Something about Ralph shocks him out of his self harming sessions and helps him to recenter and come back to himself. Ralph earned a lifetime of carrots after that first rough night.
- Confidence. Handling another living thing requires confidence and self assurance. Our oldest daughter has a very difficult time with confidence and learning to handle Ralph has been a great learning curve for her.
- Responsibility. Having to feed, water, and clean up after a pet is a big responsibility. Our oldest daughter has been assigned the role of chief caregiver and has done an amazing job at it.
Therapy rabbits are not for everyone or every child. Each child is different and you shouldn't make the decision of what type of service or therapy animal your child would benefit from lightly. It is all to common for people to jump into owning an animal without fully thinking the process through only to then dump the animal at a shelter when they are tired of caring for it. I would recommend anyone interested in a service or therapy animal to go out and spend time with the same type of animal. Get a feel for how your child responds and how you feel handling the animal yourself. Lets face it at some point mom and dad are going to be picking up the slack...and the poop....when the new wears off of the animal. Make sure you are fully committed and that the animal has the desired effect on your child. I wish you luck in your journey towards a therapy animal and would love to hear from you along your journey.