Therapy rabbit becomes part of the Youville Home care team

Not so long ago, Barbara Green wasn’t interested in leaving her room. And then she met Lily, an unusual friend.

Living with end-stage dementia, the 94-year-old Youville Home resident can become agitated by stimulation, making it difficult for her to participate in activities other residents enjoy. As a result, Barbara wanted to spend too much time alone in her room, and that concerned Youville staff, says Natalie Allouche, Resident Care Manager and Registered Nurse.

“We know isolation causes the brain to deteriorate quicker, so we were trying to think of ways we could keep her brain functioning and give her some quality of life,” says Natalie.

Then she found Lily, a gentle rabbit who not only transformed Barbara but also has a significant therapeutic effect on other residents in the St. Albert continuing care facility.

“I wanted a smaller animal she could cuddle with that wouldn’t be too skittish,” explains Natalie. She drew on her background, which includes a graduate certificate in animal therapy, as she thought about incorporating an animal in Barbara’s care plan. In the fall, she found Lily through Rabbit Rescue and recognized that the bunny's calm temperament would make Lily an ideal therapy animal for Barbara.

The transformation was almost immediate.

“Barbara took to Lily right away,” Natalie says. “Her whole mood changed. She can sit with Lily for hours at a time, perfectly content.”

These days Barbara spends far less time in her room and is more relaxed. Barbara reads aloud to her furry friend, brushes her fur and feeds her vegetables daily. If Barbara becomes upset, staff know a visit with Lily will soothe her.

Natalie and Barbara visit while Lily enjoys a carrot.

Lily’s impact goes beyond Barbara. The affection-loving rabbit has become part of the family at Youville, drawing many residents out of their rooms. Residents, staff and visitors often stop to visit Lily in her hutch, which is located near a common area. And it’s not unusual to see people taking her for a walk.

“We have a lot of residents who were farmers, so it’s a trigger to long-term memories,” Natalie says. “She’s a constant in their lives and she’s another living being they can turn to.”

This is true for resident Arnie Hendriks, who says Lily reminds him of the family farm. 

“I pet Lily at least once a day. When other people come to see her I see a smile on their faces, and that makes me happy.”

Arnie Hendriks, Youville Home resident

Lily has also touched the lives of staff, who enjoy caring for her. Spending time with Lily is therapeutic, especially during a stressful day.

“Staff will pick her up and hug or stroke her, and they tend to find that makes them feel better,” Natalie explains. “She helps bring out the good in all of us.”

Lily has been such a successful addition to Youville Home that Natalie hopes to establish an in-house animal therapy program throughout the facility. She is currently recruiting staff, family and community members who have pets to go through animal therapy training.

“Animal therapy is basically using humans and animals together to achieve a specific goal. The bottom line is we’re looking at improving quality of life.”

Natalie Allouche, Resident Care Manager

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