Dr. Curtis, the Rabbit Therapist

Dr. Curtis – Curtis provided the safe and loving atmosphere that was needed for these stories to be heard, a job which he well suited, especially with his extra long, beautiful, velvety smooth, floppy ears.

It has been said that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. And in this case, the teacher was a rabbit. A seven pound, black, floppy-eared, Holland Lop Rabbit. I rescued him from the MSPCA because his time was up. It was summer and the shelter was busting at the seams with unwanted animals. Since he had been there the longest and was older than the other rabbits, he was next to go. Knowing that, I adopted him sight unseen. Not because he was cute, my favorite color, or any of those other external criteria that people have when selecting a pet. I just wanted to save a life…never knowing, that in the end, he was the real life saver.

Shortly after I adopted Curtis – a name given to him by a rescue worker – he became ill with a throat abscess. Because of the amount of care he required to heal from this, having to be hand-fed every two hours, I brought him to work with me. Little did I know that this was his way of getting his lucky rabbit’s foot through my office door. My work would never be the same again – luckily for the children and me.

What better place to find a bunny rabbit than in a child psychologist’s office! Curtis was well received by all. And why not? Children readily identify with animals due to their vulnerable, innocent and dependent natures. In no time my office became a shrine to Curtis. The children were bringing him drawings and art projects they made in his honor. And yes, there was the occasional head of broccoli, bundle of parsley and carrot.

Over the next three months while Curtis recovered, I brought him to work with me every day. I put a litter box with hay, water and a food bowl in my office so he was comfortable there (yes, he was litter box trained). But what made Curtis feel right at home was the children. He adored them and they him. He enjoyed entertaining and charming them with how smart and clever he was. He especially loved the look of surprise on their faces to see him play with his toys. Actually, it was more like showing off. Yes, rabbits love to play. No session was complete without Curtis and the children engaging in a few games of toss. Curtis would pick up one of his toys with his teeth and toss it in the air to the child. And back and forth they went. v

Curtis knew he had a purpose in my office far beyond his own recovery. He was there for the children. He was there to help guide every exchange of feelings and energy so that all was for the highest good of the children. Eventually, I would figure this out. And when I did, those three months would turn into three long, magical, amazing, precious, wonderful and blessed years.

I soon recognized that the children were coming into the office not to talk with me, but to have their therapeutic session with Curtis. The children were completely drawn to him. While I sat in my chair, the children would lay quietly on the floor with Curtis, holding him as they stroked his head and ears. The atmosphere was serene. I strongly intuited there was something very profound and healing during their time together. I didn’t know exactly what was happening. I just knew that the children needed to spend time with Curtis in this way. So I let them be. And I was deeply grateful to Curtis for what he so knowingly gave them.

At first I felt having Curtis in my office was a perfect opportunity for the animal rights activist side of me to shine and educate people about what wonderful indoor companion animals rabbits make and the importance of supporting one’s local humane societies. Many families did adopt rabbits and sought my advice on how to properly care for them. I was thrilled to know that we had helped give many rabbits a second chance.

However, Curtis’s presence with the children was having a transformative impact. In no time he proved to be the perfect therapeutic tool for a child psychologist’s office and my secret weapon against whatever was hurting them. With Curtis by their side, children were sharing stories they had never spoken of with anyone before, stories concerning their darkest fears and saddest memories. Curtis provided the safe and loving atmosphere that was needed for these stories to be heard, a job for which he was well suited, especially with his extra long beautiful, velvety smooth, floppy ears.

With Curtis by their side, children were sharing stories they had never spoken of with anyone before, stories concerning their darkest fears and saddest memories. Curtis provided the safe and loving atmosphere that was needed for these stories to be heard, a job for which he was well suited, especially with his extra long beautiful, velvety smooth, floppy ears.

Curtis also helped to heal many a grieving heart. Children started to share stories about pets they had lost. I was surprised to learn how many children were silently grieving these losses. One youngster reported having lost 16 pets in a matter of a few years. Hamsters, lizards, dogs, cats, and birds. He had never been helped to grieve the loss of his treasured pets explaining that his parents said “It’s not important…they’re just animals.” This child shared his own deep fear, that if he died, his parents wouldn’t miss him either. Another child shared his fear that his parents would “get rid” of him like they did his two pet mice. He feared becoming a burden to his family like his mice who, he was told, “ate too much.” The stories were endless.

Curtis’s most challenging and profound healing case was that of a 10-year-old girl. She had a long history of severe physical and sexual abuse and psychological neglect. As a result, this young girl had major issues with trust such that she would not allow herself to get close to anyone, including Curtis. Unlike the other children who were eager to cuddle Curtis, she had a great deal of fear and anxiety about being in the same room with him. It took many months before this young victimized child would allow herself to sit near Curtis. It took even longer before she felt safe enough to touch him.

She often hid her vulnerability by teasing and playing tricks on Curtis, a defensive coping style common among children who have been severely hurt to the point of victimization. Her antics went as far as wearing a long rabbit fur coat to one of her appointments. Her decision to wear this particular coat symbolically told us how raw and naked she truly felt from all of the hurt she had experienced over the years. She wore her vulnerability on her sleeve that day, an event which marked a turning point in her treatment. Little did I know what transformative healing had been occurring through her interactions with Curtis.

After a year of working together, we were ready to say good-bye and we had our last appointment. Unlike all of her previous appointments where she came with her bag of tricks, she came to this one with a gift: a necklace she had made for Curtis. The necklace consisted of cubes with letters painted on them. Together the letters read, “You know you are somebody when some bunny loves you.” This said it all.

At moments such as this one above, I completely recognized that Curtis’s presence in my office was no accident. It was no accident that I adopted him and it was no accident that he got sick the way he did. I recognized then that it was Curtis who was holding the children during their appointments, not the children holding him. And while in his healing embrace, the children were able to free their hearts of pain.

Curtis taught me through his relationships with the children that it takes someone very different from our selves for us to stop and hear, and ironically, to help us learn how to trust. By relating to Curtis, the children were able to open up their hearts to themselves with confidence. Curtis came into my life to help serve, teach and love, and we rescued and healed many broken, wounded little hearts. We did it together, so his name was added to the office directory. Listed underneath my name it read: “Dr. Curtis, Rabbit Therapist.” A title he well deserved. And a healing partnership which I am eternally grateful for.

Curtis was a regular at Open Doors in Braintree, MA. He especially enjoyed the Dream Weaver with Linda Gibson, attending Tuesday night healings, Richard Lanza and Dee Jay Condon’s classes, and cuddling with Judy, the store manager. Dr. Curtis will soon have his own advice column for children on his web site and in the Rabbit Gazette Newsletter.