Quinoa the Comfort Bunny: A Cuddly Companion in End-of-Life Care
Animal therapy is used globally to help people of all walks of life. For Waipuna Hospice, a unique service brings immense joy to patients and their families, in the form of our fluffy guest resident bunny – Quinoa. Quinoa’s human mother, hospice Physiotherapist Ann, speaks on the benefit of animals in therapy.
“It can bring such positive energy and create joyous moments in what is often a really sad situation,” says Ann. Ann first trialled the bunny trips at an aged care facility where she also provides physio. “Lots of our older people had to give up their animals to be able to move into an aged care facility. And they really miss them.”
So, when hospice patients requested bunny visits, the guest appearances at both patient homes and the In-Patient Unit began.
“Quinoa is so placid… He sits, closes his eyes, and drops his chin. And he loves a good old face massage. He’s so good with sick people.”
Ann remembers one significant Easter when a bunny-loving granddaughter was visiting her gran in hospice. Gran and the two-year-old granddaughter had beautiful photos taken with Quinoa. The ‘wee one’ and Quinoa then sat on the fold-up bed snacking together. “It was very special,” says Ann. “She had a rice cracker; Quinoa got a rice cracker. She had a carrot stick and Quinoa got a carrot stick. As much as it was a very sad time for the family, and for the wee one, hospice became more than just a sad place. It was somewhere she’d had a little adventure and experienced something different.”
“Being able to distract a patient and bring them joy makes me so happy, especially with something they haven’t experienced before. It’s not therapeutic touch from a therapist. It’s a therapeutic touch from the rabbit and he’s just so good at it. If they’re not expecting it, even better. It’s amazing to watch a patient’s face light up with delight when they meet Quinoa. One patient spoke about her experience meeting a bunny, non-stop, right until her final days” says Ann.
Hospice patient, Anna, experienced first-hand how furry friends can comfort us as we face daunting times.
Like many of us, Anna loves animals, so when Ann first brought in her pet it was a breath of fresh air.
“She had three beautiful cats. It was absolutely breaking her heart that she had to rehome them,” says Ann. Now, when Quinoa pops in, “it lights up her face and it’s a distraction from the pain. And Quinoa just loves her.”
Quinoa, the white, soft bunny, cuddles up on Anna’s lap as she lays in her hospice bed sharing her story. Anna softly strokes Quinoa.
“I’m in this room, in this bed, nearly 24/7 and to have a gentle animal brought to me is very relaxing and comforting. I find it soothing. It’s lovely – a small animal that loves to be loved is very, very therapeutic. I’ve lost my beautiful pets because of what’s happening with my health, so, to have animals brought in, fills that void of losing mine.”
Anna and Ann first connected through their mutual love for animals, exchanging stories about their cats and of course, Quinoa. Ann revealed Quinoa makes appearances to bring joy to patients. Anna thought “Oh yes, I’d love to be able to give him cuddles.” Anna glances down… “Isn’t this so sweet? Seeing him relax, relaxes me. It’s beautiful. As I stroke him and see him enjoy it, I feel comforted and soothed.”
“It doesn’t take much to have an animal on your lap, to stroke and show affection to. They return the affection, which is really, really lovely to experience when you’re in a challenging situation.”
As patients come to terms with their terminal diagnosis, it’s expected for them to view life in a different manner. When we know we are reaching end-of-life, small touches can make the world of difference and are appreciated on another level.
“A lot of people are animal lovers,” explains Anna as she shares why she is an advocate on animal therapy. “Even if they don’t own a pet, they can still get enjoyment out of something different, being brought into what can often be a sombre environment.” Anna compares her experience with rest homes having a resident cat or dog. She enthuses as we chat about our former resident duck who made itself at home in the hospice pond, and even featured on the inaugural Christmas postcard.
“Aww, that’s so cute,” says Anna, telling how she keeps a lookout for the wild rabbit that hops around the hospice gardens. “There’s another resident here – I call him Peter Rabbit. He’s a big fat boy, and he’s always in the area. I sometimes spot little rabbits as well – it’s just so cute.”
Anna’s face lights up as she speaks about her experiences with animals. While it can undoubtedly be hard to cope with this end-of-life journey, animals have been a light in the dark for Anna. And Quinoa sure does love the cuddles.
Waipuna Hospice recognises the importance of addressing the social, emotional, and spiritual needs of patients and their families. That’s why our services reach further than purely medical. Our approach is grounded in the belief that life is special and every person deserves to live their life to the fullest, even in the face of a terminal illness. We hope Quinoa is helping make life a touch more special for our patients.
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We would like to thank Anna and Ann for sharing their story with us.
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