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Bunny brings calm, responsibility to MS

Bunny brings calm, responsibility to MS

Comet the rabbit adds new perspective to student lives

Comet, a 9-week-old black and white rabbit, is especially curious of the kids who care for her at school. With her hutch nestled in the counseling office at the Charles City Middle School, Comet typically gets the run of the office, visiting Rae Lynne Chase, the juvenile court liaison and at-risk coordinator for Charles City Schools, and Heather Wilson, the middle school counselor, for fuzzy work breaks and parsley snacks. Occasionally, Comet gets a little sassy with her coworkers.

“I never knew rabbits had such personalities,” Wilson said. “If you ignore her, she’ll chew on your feet and just keep picking at you until you pick her up.”

“She’ll stare at you or she’ll turn around and snub you completely,” Chase added. “She’s done that to me a couple of times too.

Very sensitive and emotional.”

Has she ever snubbed a student?

“I don’t think so. Apparently it’s just us!” Wilson laughed. After discussions with the school principal and nurse, and a grant award from Pets in the Classroom, Wilson and Chase had the funding and ongoing pet store discounts to find their new therapy rabbit this year.

Comet herself was donated by Julie Lenz of the Mason City Heart of Hope Acres Rabbitry, and came to the middle school just after Thanksgiving. Even though she’s young, Wilson and Chase have both been impressed with her interactions with kids.

“I think we’re still learning quite a bit about ways in which she can be helpful, and how she responds to different environments,” Wilson said.

Comet’s job –– to care and be cared for –– has made her into a valuable friend and therapy animal at the middle school, where students can play with her while building relationships with Wilson and Chase. Between five to seven students are also in charge of Comet’s weekly care, stopping by in the morning to feed her, change bedding and do other small tasks to keep her happy and cared for.

They are especially careful to give Comet her space, and in the process learn how to translate that personal space awareness towards other people. Kids involved in Comet’s care agree to a behavioral contract –– outlining not only bunny responsibilities, but expectations for school and home behavior –– which includes a waiver signed by parents. In the three weeks Comet has been at the middle school, students have learned to strengthen resiliency skills and individual struggles, like maintaining attendance.

“Animals are incredibly empathetic. They don’t care what you look like, they don’t care what brand of jeans you’re wearing. They are there for you, they’re comforting.

She’s been that,” Chase said.

“Learning how to build that relationship and trust –– because with any animal, you have to build that trust level –– helps them know that they have to be a constant.”

Comet also gives students a simple path to success –– caring for her brings a sense of accomplishment when other work seems overwhelming.

The students, who work mostly with Wilson, also have a dedicated time to build relationships with Wilson and Comet, making it easier to talk with Wilson when managing school and home seems harder. “When something does come up, we already have a positive relationship built, so that conversation is a lot easier,” Wilson said. “It gives me a chance to talk to them one on one about real issues going on.”

By Kate Hayden [email protected]

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