Healing Whiskers – Oliver, a pet therapy rat, brings smiles to people’s faces
Healing Whiskers – Oliver, a therapy pet rat, brings smiles to people’s faces
June is Post Traumatic Stress Awareness Month, and Paws for Reflection is devoting several posts to the benefits of pet therapy for those with PTSD, as well as others. At BlogPaws 2017, Paws for Reflection met Oliver, a therapy pet rat, and we reached out to Healing Whiskers for an Q&A interview.
The release of the move Meghan Leavy this month highlights the special bond between service dogs and people with PTSD. At Paws for Reflection, we know all animals can be beneficial as therapy pets, including cats. Here, we highlight, how Oliver, a pet rat, is a perfect therapy pet.
Tell me about you, Oliver and any other pets you have?
My name is Abby Chesnut, I have two blogs: Healing Whiskers and The Chesnut Mutts. I have two part-time jobs as a merchandiser and a postal carrier, and I’m also a volunteer photographer for our local animal control and rescues.
I live in Rome, Georgia with my boyfriend, Johnny, where we have two small mixed breed dogs, two fancy rats, and an aquatic snail. Jada and Bailey are the dogs, Oliver and Jasper are the rats, and Tyrone is the name of our snail.
Teen and young adults love Oliver
How long have you had Oliver? Did you adopt him? How did you center upon him as a therapy pet? How long has he been a therapy pet? What types of places (hospitals, nursing homes, schools) do you visit?
Oliver just turned one years old in April. I actually got both him and his brother Oliver from a breeder in South Carolina. There isn’t an epidemic of unwanted pet rats so breeders are actually a great asset to the rat community to keep healthy rats in the gene pool for pets.
I was looking for a beautiful color and calm temperamenttraining. Jasper was originally going to be trained, but shortly after getting him he started to get seizures, so I picked up his brother Oliver to start training.
His training started as him being out of his cage, being outside, different environments. If he pottied he went back in, but if he held it he got a really great treat. So we took baby steps and I monitored to see if he could handle being a therapy animal. The environment is one thing, but people would be petting him too. So lots of work went into the rat he is today.
Registered as a therapy team in January
We just got registered as a therapy team in January and started doing a lot of finals week de-stress events at local colleges. Teens and young adults love Oliver! We are hoping to expand more into other venues, but public events and schools seem to work well for us.
Typically, Oliver, a pet therapy rat, gets a jaw drop
How do people react to Oliver? He’s so cute, and so little? Do they have a chance to reach out and pet him or hold him?
I typically get a jaw drop and then they rush over to me. Haha. Then I get asked a lot of the typical questions. There is always a couple of people who don’t like rats, but i shrug it off and don’t push them on anyone. I have him in a basket and people are free to pet him. I’m a little picky with who holds him, though. I stray away from smaller kids holding him, but teens and adults I usually say okay to. I get a hand towel and lightly wrap him up in it then tell the recipient how to hold him (close to your body like a baby) and hand him off. The towel is a barrier that is required by our therapy team and it makes it easier if Oliver gets squirmy.
How did you get involved in pet therapy? Have you tried pet therapy with other pets?
I wanted to do animal-assisted therapy with one of my dogs, but they weren’t animal right fit. I would bring my rats to public events and seeing how therapeutic they were really got me thinking. Once I learned Pet Partners registered rats, I was in. It was my mission from then on to train a therapy rat and spread the rat love.
Oliver’s basket is his home away from home
How does Oliver react? Does he welcome meeting all these new people? Does he prefer certain settings?
Whenever we go to a new setting he is always up in his basket smelling the air. Rats cannot see very well at all so his basket is his little home away from home. Sometimes he will reach out and smell new people, other times he waits for them to pet him. Quiet places like libraries are nice, but it is more about how he enjoys the people he meets. Weird as it sounds, he seems to click with random people and likes to brux and boggle (a motion of the teeth and eyes when rats are happy) when being pet or held by them. It’s adorable and tells me he enjoys what he is doing.
Did you have to go through any special training for Oliver to become a therapy pet? Or did you have to prove that he was healthy and up to date on all his vaccinations?
We had to pass an evaluation test which included many loud noises, stressful events, and a dog. We had been training for it since he was a month old with the potty training and gradual increase in the amount of new stimuli he was exposed to. We would go to farmer’s markers, car shows, and pet friendly events. We did also have to prove he was healthy with a wellness check from our local exotic vet.
Lots of questions about Oliver, a pet therapy rat
Tell me about your typical therapy visit?
Our local therapy team, which consists of mostly dogs, will be in a designated place for students or anyone to come by and pet the animals. Visits last up to 2 hours and just depending on the venue, we can get up to 40 people a visit. I’m always answering rat questions and by the end of it all my face muscles are sore from smiling.
What is the most inspirational story you have to tell about one of Oliver’s therapy visits?
We did have a special boy come up this last Halloween when Oliver was still in training. We got to tag with the local therapy group to a truck or treat and people of all ages came up to see him. A boy in a stroller who was vision impaired came by and I asked if he wanted to pet a rat. I put Oliver near his hand, he pet him, and the boy grinned ear to ear. It was heart warming.
What would you recommend someone do if they are interested in having one of their pets become a therapy pet?
See if you have a local organization and get to know them. You can go on Pet Partners’ website and see if a group is near you. Your animal needs to be good in a variety of settings, so start early on socialization.
Where would readers go to find more information about Oliver and read about his wonderful work helping others and living up to the name, Healing Whiskers.
We have a blog: www.h