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Rabbits are docile and appealing animals, which makes them well suited for therapy work. Oreo, Jessie, and Henry, for example, are three “staff rabbits” with the American Red Cross of Susquehanna Valley in south-central Pennsylvania. Harvey and Chrystal are also volunteers with the group. Owners Cindy Drob and her 11-year-old daughter, Aimee, became Red Cross volunteers, said Drob, “because we have a lot of pets at our house. I know they’re therapy for me, to be home with all of these animals . . . and I just wanted to share it with other people.” Small creatures like hamsters, gerbils, ferrets, and even lizards are working as therapy pets, too. The Companionable Zoo, at the Devereux School in the Philadelphia area, keeps all these animals—plus occasional goats, sheep, and miniature horses—in classrooms or in nearby buildings on campus. The children at the school, who all struggle with emotional, behavioral, and educational difficulties, help care for the animals and gardens connected to the zoos. Psychiatrist Aaron Katcher, a pioneer in animal-assisted psychotherapy who works with the Devereux School students and other similar programs, declared the project a success on many levels: “Positive effects include decreases in under-controlled and aggressive behavior . . . improved cooperation with instructors . . . and appropriate behavior.” Even pot-bellied pigs have been trained as therapy animals—their comical appearance brings laughter and joy to many patients. In England, a ferret named Wombat once made an instant connection with a young autistic girl who had never responded to people, dogs, or other animals before. When Wombat was taken out of his box, the girl began to stroke him. She spoke to him and set him gently on the floor; then she got down on the floor herself to crawl along beside the little animal, talking to him all the while. At the end of the visit, the little girl kissed the ferret good-bye and waved to him—things she had never done before.

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