It's National Therapy Animal Day, but these unique pets celebrate the holiday all year round.
It’s National Therapy Animal Day, the perfect time to celebrate the countless critters who dedicate their lives to making hospital patients, schoolchildren, seniors and animal lovers the world over happy.
Pet Partners, the largest non-profit dedicated to registering therapy animals, has helped many of these therapy pets get the training they need to make this possible and has created therapy programs across the country.
Dogs may be the first animal that comes to mind when you think of therapy pets, but Pet Partners knows that therapy animals come in all shapes and sizes; the non-profit has registered rats, cats, llamas and more.
To celebrate National Therapy Animal Day, Pet Partners introduced PEOPLE to some of their non-traditional therapy pets.
Flight the Senior Llama
Niki Kuklenski, Flight’s owner, says the loving llama is “perceptive and kind.” Also “a total ham,” Flight adores the time she spends visiting new friends as a therapy animal.
“She can always be counted on to work a crowd with her kisses and hugs. Her enjoyment is obvious by her ears being up and the fact she always looks incredibly happy to be doing what she does!” the llama’s mama added.
Monte the Mini Horse
Along with Flight and four other llamas, Kuklenski also visits hospitals with Monte the mini horse, who joined her therapy animal team in 2017. Monte mostly does end stage hospice work, which is important to Kuklenski because the horse is able tp provide comfort to someone when they truly need it most.
“One of my very first visits with the miniature horse was with a man who dearly loved horses. Upon entering the man’s room, I immediately noticed he had horse pictures all over his walls,” Kuklenski said. “Monte walked right up to his bed without hesitation and all the equipment around. The man’s joy was evident, and he struggled to sit up. I moved Monte’s head toward his to be able to easily interact with him. Monte reached over and began to slowly lick the man’s face. The man closed his eyes and said, ‘This is my best day ever!’ “
Tommy the Blind Cat
Christy Santoro knew since she brought Tommy home when he was just four weeks old that this cat was meant to provide comfort.
“He was just so mellow and had the sweetest demeanor. Even after losing his eyes, he loved getting out of the house, meeting new people and greeting our house guests at the front door. As soon he heard his leash come out, he was ready to go out and make someone happy. I knew he would make a wonderful therapy cat,” Tommy’s owner said.
Today, Tommy is eight years old and has been registered as a therapy pet for just over a year. He visits senior care facilities, schools, workplaces, community events and hospitals to teach others about “the importance of acceptance and kindness.”
Stuart and Calvin the Guinea Pigs
This adorable duo visits adult psychiatric facilities and does stress relief events at many of Boston’s colleges and universities, including Harvard. Niki Vettel, the caretaker of the twosome, is a mental health clinician who facilitates animal-assisted therapy groups to “help patients discuss issues of trust, responsibility, and unconditional acceptance.”
“In the course of these visits and work, patients and participants have truly fallen in love with Stuart and Calvin. We enjoy a good laugh from the usual comment ‘Wow, they’re so BIG for hamsters!’, which opens the opportunity to share the history, biology, habits, and personalities of guinea pigs,” she said.
Oreo the Rabbit
Oreo is happy to hop into the hearts of everyone he meets. The bunny often visits nursing homes and also stops by schools to sit in the laps of kids and encourage them to read.
‘His first visit was to an elderly man in a nursing home, who needed a friend. I gently laid a white towel over the man’s chest as he laid in bed. The gentleman’s eye sparkled as he grinned at Oreo; the bunny’s wiggly nose inches from his own,” his handler, Dr. Elizabeth Lynch, recounts. “They talked and snuggled while I stood at the bedside. It was time to leave all too soon, but I sent a poster the next day of the picture I took of the two of them together in conversation with the positive affirmation “Some Bunny Loves You” written across the top. He had the nurse tape it to his wall opposite his bed, so it’s the first thing he sees when he wakes up in the morning.”
Vincent the Rat
Abby Chesnut brings her therapy rat to schools and libraries to help encourage children to read.
“We sit with a child who reads to him and Vincent relaxes and listens to the story,” Chesnut says. “We also visit college campuses during finals week and help ease students’ stress. The students really enjoy the uniqueness of having a therapy rat on campus.”
Not everyone is a fan of rats when they first meet Vincent, but Chesnut says the therapy pet quickly wins over the doubtful.
Buddy the Macaw
This 26-year-old bird also helps children learn to read and has been visiting reading therapy programs since 2013.
“It turned out that Buddy loves books being read to by the kids and is quite an active listener. His favorite book is probably Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham, although he’ll sit patiently on a child’s lap for just about any book, hanging on every word and studying every illustration,” his owner, Dan Lee, says.
Buddy also works with a group specializing in therapy for kids with Autism spectrum disorder and takes part in a monthly birthday party for some incredible foster children and their loving foster families.