NY Post: Paging Dr. Rabbit

By Rebecca Wallwork
NY Post
Click here to read the original article
August 29, 2010    

(Please see note at the end of this post)    

Bunnies are more than cute and cuddly – they are therapy for the soul

Bunnies are having a media moment. They’re everywhere, from the New York State Lottery’s Sweet Millions TV commercial to the Juicy Couture fall campaign in the pages of Elle magazine.    

But they’re also making appearances in hospitals, nursing homes and even colleges all over the city. That’s because bunnies aren’t just cute to look at — they’re therapeutic.    

Just ask Maria Grieco, a music teacher from Jackson Heights. She takes her two rabbits, Tosca and Rinuccio (named for opera characters), on pet-therapy visits four times a month and the one thing she hears the most on her rounds is: “I’m keeping them!”    

Tosca (top left) and Rinuccio are best bunny buds who use their loving demeanor to help elders, stressed-out students and other people in need. Maria Grieco is their proud owner.


Grieco got into pet-therapy a few years ago when she heard about the Animal Medical Center’s Pet Outreach Program during a routine vet visit with her female rabbit, 9-year-old Tosca.    

“I read how they visited hospitals with dogs, cats, a bird — and even rabbits,” she says.    

It wasn’t until a holiday meal at her brother’s house, however, that she decided to hop on board.     

“An elderly friend of the family was [there],” she remembers. “And her hands were knotted with arthritis. I put Tosca on her lap and she sat there quietly, letting the woman pet her. It looked to me like her arthritic hands were actually stretching out and relaxing as she petted Tosca. That’s when I thought, ‘She would be perfect for pet therapy.’ She always was a people bunny.”    

AMC’s Pet Outreach Program began in 1983 and they visit an increasing number of facilities across the city. Grieco and her rabbits visit a residence for the elderly, a senior’s day program, Coler Goldwater Specialty Hospital on Roosevelt Island, and the Guild for the Blind. They’ve even gone to Fordham University to help relax stressed-out students before their exams.     

“They were about 200 kids lined up to hold them,” she says. “I get such a kick out of seeing Tosca and Rinuccio’s effect on people. Tosca especially loves attention and being petted. People sense that.”     

According to AMC, some individuals respond better to animals than to doctors, therapists, or even members of their own family.    

Once in a while they see dramatic changes, like a stroke patient moving a hand doctors thought was permanently frozen to pet an animal. Studies have also proved that pet-therapy animals can help lower blood pressure. But most of all, pets bring smiles to patients’ days.    

Even Rinuccio, who isn’t as keen on being cuddled as Tosca, has taken to his role as a pet therapist.    

“The most extraordinary thing I’ve seen,” says Grieco, “is the time we were at a facility and I was sitting next to a woman who had a limb deformity. Rinuccio had been digging around on someone else’s lap so I picked him up, thinking he was done for the session. But I sat in the chair next to this woman, put him on my lap and let her pet him. Without any prompting from anybody, Rinuccio got up and walked from my lap to hers and settled down. He’s never done that before.”    

Grieco gets all the benefits of pet therapy at home, as well. “The interaction is on a more subtle level,” she says. “But they suit my temperament. They’re gentle, quiet creatures.”     

And they get along with each other, too: “Sometimes we humans are so demanding in our relationships, so I love to see the rabbits snuggled together, cheek to cheek, silently enjoying each other’s company. I think there’s a lesson in that for all of us.”    

To volunteer for AMC’s Pet Outreach Program, call 212-838-8100 x7348.    

Note: I love this NY Post story, but was very disappointed that the Post chose to feature a photo/description of rabbit sausage pizza on the SAME DAY.     

Also, the pet therapy article mentions Juicy Couture’s fall campaign that features rabbits. The Juicy site show   

In the past, Juicy Couture has sold many items made from rabbit fur (ear muffs, jackets, etc).  From what I can tell, their current site only shows “faux” rabbit fur products.    

Put on your “Diplomatic Activist” hat, please click  here to view the article. Register nypost.com to leave a polite comment on the article.

One thought on “NY Post: Paging Dr. Rabbit

  1. Heathen

    I volunteer with the Pet-Assisted Therapy program at the San Diego Humane Society. I go to the psychiatric facilities here in San Diego county and I can tell you that the bunnies there really do make a difference, especially with the chronically depressed and the severely schizophrenic. Thank you for showing this article. I will forward it to Judith Eisenberg, the P-AT Director at the Humane Society

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