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Meet Sir M: A Bunny Who Helps People Beat the Blues

By: Rebecca Jones

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A 2-year-old Holland lop rabbit who seems to know a thing or two about depression has been honored by a group of Colorado veterinarians for his extraordinary ability to bond with troubled humans.

Sir M, who lives with his owner, Paula Vinita, in suburban Denver, received the Human/Animal Bond Award at a special meeting of the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association in Snowmass, Colo. Sir M's handsome plaque and a gold medal now hang proudly above the fireplace in the home Vinita and the rabbit share.

"I've had several rabbits before," says Vinita. "But this one takes the cake. In fact, he saved my life."

Vinita, 37, suffers from a severe mental disorder that she controls through medication. Sometimes, she says, she sinks into dark depressions. She was in just such an emotional valley, close to suicide, two years ago when a friend offered to buy her a rabbit.

Bunny Seemed Depressed

She selected Sir M from all the baby bunnies at the pet store because he seemed awfully downcast himself. While the other bunnies hopped away when she approached, he just sat there, looking glum. When she picked him up, he didn't struggle, he only snuggled.

Since that day, the two have rarely been apart, even for short periods. Vinita doesn't own a car, but Sir M rides on the city buses with her, tucked safely in his traveling pouch. He goes shopping with her, to doctor's appointments and even to class. Vinita is a student at Front Range Community College, and hopes to become a veterinary technician, possibly even a veterinarian one day.

"He'll sit in meetings with me with my caseworker," Vinita says. "There are times I've hit the roof emotionally, but he'll nuzzle up to me, and I'll just keep petting him, and I even out."

Sir M has become a favorite therapist at the mental health outpatient clinic where Vinita is a client. Nearly 200 people who receive treatment there signed a form nominating Sir M for special consideration. "I let him run in the flower garden there, and he hops right up to people and they pet him," Vinita says. "Or they like to hold him, and he doesn't mind. He makes people come out of their shell."

Bunny Taken From Mother Too Soon

Vinita says the blue-eyed rabbit may understand what depression is because he was taken from his mother too soon. "A vet told me when I got him that he wasn't as old as I thought he was," she says. "I'd estimate that he wasn't any more than 3 weeks old when I got him, and that's way too young to be taken from mama."

She says the rabbit has become even more empathetic to humans who are suffering following an accident. Sir M made a bad landing after jumping from a couch. He suffered a broken foot that eventually had to be amputated. Still, she says, he seems to be adapting quite easily to life on three legs.

"He seems very content," she says. "Even when we're in heavy traffic, he's not nervous. The only time he gets nervous is when he hears the phrase 'Big doggies over there!' If we're outside and he wanders too far away, I say that, and he hops right back to me."

Even award-winning bunnies like Sir M can cause havoc around the house, Vinita admits. He has chewed up more than a few items. "He makes me laugh, he makes me cry," she says. "He chews holes in my clothes! He is my everything!"

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