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A Fluffy Rabbit And Her Owner Help People In Pain

Nancy Laracy and her rabbit, Muffin, offer animal-assisted therapy that brings comfort to people who are suffering.

Rebecca Stout
Posted: April 22, 2015, 10:30 p.m. EDT

Nancy Laracy with Muffin and child
© Courtesy of Nancy Laracy 
Living with chronic pain, Nancy Laracy (left) discovered bunny therapy and now brings it to others in need. This photo was taken at a weekend event that helps family members cope with losing a loved one to cancer.

Healing — it can come in a variety of unexpected and unconventional forms. Some people in this world battle painful conditions for which no pill brings relief. Nancy Laracy has successfully found a way to help some people with both physical and psychological pain by using the most unlikely of things: her beloved bunny named Muffin. 

Discovering The Power Of Bunnies
It all began with the most unfortunate of circumstances. Laracy, a resident of New Jersey, says she fell victim to a common virus (fifth disease) in the late ’90s and consequently developed a connective tissue disease and fibromyalgia as an end result. It all went undiagnosed for the better part of a very painful two years. The illness changed her life, ending her career as a successful human resources executive. Today, pain is very much a part of Laracy’s life — but healing has become an even larger part.

Before I introduce you to her extraordinary rabbit, Muffin, we need to take a look at how bunnies entered Laracy’s life in the first place, and the first furry soul who inspired her. In 2001, Laracy and her two children ventured out one snowy night to buy crickets for their bearded dragon from a local pet store. In the window was a litter of adorable bunnies. 

"I am still not sure to this day why I needed a bunny that night,” Laracy said. "When the woman placed this beautiful Red Satin in my arms, he seemed magical — so we brought him home. My husband was allergic to cats and dogs, and I believe that someone knew what I needed to fill my void.” 

The carefree times together didn’t last long before they were faced with a frightening situation. Bunny Boy developed a serious abscess in his jaw at 9 months of age. The debilitating and life-threatening infection led his veterinarians at the Animal Medical Center in Manhattan to pioneer the use of antibiotic beads placed directly into the site of the infection. Years later, Laracy herself developed a life-threatening bone infection that was also in her jaw. Her doctors utilized the same cutting-edge treatment that was so successful in Bunny Boy. The two battled chronic pain and comforted each other over the years. They became so bonded that they were nearly inseparable. She says he truly became her third child. Ultimately, his loving presence brought peace and healing to Laracy. 

"He saved my life, figuratively and literally,” Laracy said. 

Realizing that she had inadvertently found herself on the receiving end of pet therapy and had benefited from it so greatly over the years, she wanted to share that happiness with others. Bunny Boy became an informal therapy animal. Sadly, he passed away shortly after at age 9.

woman cuddles rabbit
© Courtesy of Nancy Laracy 
Muffin brings fluffy happiness to those she visits in healthcare centers.

Muffin Reaches Out To Seniors 
Laracy wanted to once again help others heal with a bunny and to also broaden her reach, so she pushed through her grief to love once again. Today, Laracy carries a Muffin in a basket on her arm, but not the kind of Muffin you might think. Muffin is a feisty Jersey Wooly bunny. She is a striking contrast to the calm, gentlemanly Bunny Boy. Laracy and Muffin joined the Bunnies In Baskets program, a nonprofit organization that brings therapy rabbits to facilities such as hospitals, senior communities and more. They even launched the first New Jersey branch.

Soon, the team was traveling place to place to help motivate and inspire people. Laracy says the visits are extremely therapeutic, bringing others a great deal of relief and comfort. 

"I call my work with Muffin AAT, animal-assisted therapy,” Laracy said. "That’s exactly what it is.” 

Laracy and Muffin visit three nursing homes at least once a month. They have been blessed with many memorable visits, and Laracy recalls an especially poignant one.

"There was one woman Helen who was on hospice, and Muffin seemed to really respond to her and her to Muffin. Muffin, unsolicited, crawled out of her basket and settled herself on Helen’s chest and tucked herself under her chin and stared at her for 15 minutes. Helen kept saying, ‘This is my last gift from God before I pass. Thank you so much for Muffin. Thank you, Muffin. I love you.’”

On another memorable visit that occurred near Christmas, Laracy says she saw a woman sitting alone in the solarium. She was staring out the window crying. Laracy walked over to talk to her. 

"I have to stop crying,” Laracy recalled the woman saying, "my son is coming shortly and he doesn’t like to see my crying, but I always get weepy around Christmas.” 

Laracy says she sat next to her with Muffin.

"Muffin sniffed her and then stared at her while she gently pet her,” Laracy said. "’Would you like to hold Muffin?’ I asked the woman. She screeched ‘Yes!!!’ I put Muffin on her lap and she lifted her up to her neck and sobbed so hard that Muffin’s fur was soaking wet. ‘Thank you for this very special Christmas gift,’ she said to me.”

Nancy Laracy with Muffin and child
© Courtesy of Nancy Laracy 
Children who are facing serious illness enjoy a week of fun at Camp Dream Street, and Muffin was part of one of those camps.

Muffin Reaches Out To Youngsters
The team works very closely with CancerCare, a national organization that provides help and hope to those touched by cancer. An example of one of Laracy’s many projects with them includes visits to a large dude ranch for the Healing Hearts Family Bereavement camp weekend this past summer. She worked with 28 children, ages 4 through 10, who had tragically lost a parent or loved one to cancer. Laracy read a book narrated by a bunny dealing with anger and led a discussion relating to the children’s anger about losing a loved one. 

"I spoke to the children individually and asked them who died and then each child was able to hold or cuddle Muffin,” Laracy said. "They also made an adorable craft to remember her by: a bunny with a butterfly on his head — butterflies was the theme of the weekend. It was a magical day and also life altering.”

Kathleen Nugent, social worker and director of regional programs at CancerCare, looks forward to Laracy’s warm and compassionate visits and watching the children express their feelings.

"Muffin is adorable,” Nugent said. "The children are drawn to her, and she sits quietly and attentively. When watching the children with Muffin, you can observe their fascination, wonder and love of the bunny. The children were comforted and soothed by her presence.”

Nancy Laracy with Muffin and children
© Courtesy of Nancy Laracy 
Nancy Laracy and Muffin have made several trips to visit children in Newtown, Connecticut, who are still healing after the tragic school shooting in 2012.

Muffin Brings Comfort After Unspeakable Tragedy
On December 14, 2012, the deadliest mass shooting at a school in U.S. history occurred in Newtown, Connecticut. Nancy Laracy’s heart broke as she heard about the 20 children and 6 adults who lost their lives that day. She says she knew she couldn’t help those who were gone, but she could help the survivors. Muffin … could help the survivors.

Laracy contacted the town bookkeeper who put her in touch with Judith Sims, who was the director of the Children’s Adventure Center at the time, a state funded early childhood center on the grounds of the Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut. Sim’s lost seven children that she taught the previous year. 

"The loss has been overwhelming,” Sims said. "There are no words to describe December 14, 2012, in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. The horror, the pain and the loss that was experienced is still incomprehensible.”

Laracy ended up spending the whole day there for her first visit with Muffin, and she and Muffin have returned several times since.

"The children were so receptive to Muffin,” Laracy said. "Several children held her and cried or whimpered. One child held her so close in her neck and I didn’t think she would ever let go of her. ‘Muffin, I love you,’ [I heard her say].”

Sims believes Muffin’s visits are extremely therapeutic for the children and staff. 

"Nancy was a warm assurance in the dark,” Sims said. "The children and staff immediately responded to her and her amazing bunny Muffin. As she continued coming to the Adventure Center, the children and teachers opened up, released some of their pain, relaxed and trusted her. It was the first time since December 14 that I heard the teachers laugh.” 

You could say that little Muffin has helped people rise out of the ashes of pain and tragedy. 

rabbit cupcakes and goody bags
© Courtesy of Nancy Laracy 
Laracy often brings goodies or mementos during her visits with Muffin; generous donors help with some items, but others Laracy funds herself.

Expanding Their Mission Of Comfort
Today the pair are busy bees, traveling place to place. Muffin continues to be a bunny in a basket for Bunnies in Baskets. Once a month, Laracy and Muffin participate in "Paws for Reading” at a local library. Children with reading difficulties line up to read to Muffin. 

"I love seeing the children struggle with a word and then look to Muffin for help, and of course, I teach them the word!” Laracy said.

She has made quite a splash in the area leading the way to many other projects. The two were asked to be part of the Butterflies Program at Valley Health Systems in Ridgewood, New Jersey. The organization provides home care services that concentrate on the comfort and relief of suffering children and also supports their families … a perfect fit for Muffin! 
Among the many other programs the team has ventured into is Camp Dream Street, a weeklong camp for children with cancer. Muffin’s soft and soulful eyes reach out to children and have a way of drawing them in. 

"One special moment was when an adorable, frail, sick, bald boy cuddled on my lap and held Muffin close and said, ‘I am not scared when I am holding Muffin,’” Laracy said. 

Laracy’s programs and have grown and evolved over time, and she plans on expanding her work. During visits, each child usually receives a stuffed bunny or a bunny book relative to their situation or condition. Each book is autographed by Muffin with a paw print. A generous vendor donates chocolate bunny lollipops for many of the events. 

"I have gotten some assistance now with books but for the most part I do a lot of the donations myself,” Laracy said. "I bring bunny cupcakes or bunny cookies as well.” 

You can keep up with Muffins exploits and Laracy’s latest doings through updates and her blog on her website, which is devoted to AAT and chronic pain. 

"I can always use help with donations — stuffed bunnies, bunny coloring books or sticker books,” Laracy said. "I can be contacted and I can explain what events are coming up and what I need if anyone is interested in donating items.”

One thing to be on the lookout for is her book that she hopes to self-publish or find a publisher for, called "Bunny Boy, One Woman’s Triumph Over Chronic Pain With The Help Of The World’s Luckiest, Unlucky Rabbit.” 

It’s hard to believe such an attractive and vibrant woman lives with such a painful illness. Her enthusiasm is absolutely contagious! She is very quick to tell you, however, that Muffin is the real champion here. Without Muffin to take away her and other’s pain, none of this would be possible. She describes her experience with Muffin as magical. And so do others.

"Nancy understands and connects on a very deep level with other people who are suffering,” Sims said. "With her bright smile, warm welcomes, a soft bunny named Muffin, Nancy can work magic!” 

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Posted: April 22, 2015, 10:30 p.m. EDT

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A Fluffy Rabbit And Her Owner Help People In Pain

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Truly angels ...
Rebecca, hixson, TN
Posted: 4/23/2015 11:34:11 AM
Therapy animals are truly wonderful!
Autum, Caldwell, ID
Posted: 4/23/2015 5:26:02 AM
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