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Bunnies brighten seniors' days

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    Betty Kozak, 92, with Suede, one of the Sunshine bunnies. "You're just so content," Kozak says.

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    Ann Bragg, left, and Betty Kozak talking about Suede, a Sunshine Communities bunny Kozak's lap, during a visit to Ohio Living Swan Creek.

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    Jen Simon, job coach, left, holding Angora rabbit Bella with Shelly Antkowiak, one of the animal caretakers.

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    Lynn Foust with Chuckie, one of the bunnies moved from the barn to the greenhouse at Sunshine Communities for the winter.

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    Bailey, a gelding, barn supervisor Alicia Rybak, and barn worker Joe Bailey in the Sunshine Communities' barn. Adults with disabilities take care of animals at the barn in Maumee.

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    Melissa Shetley, standing at left, pets Angora rabbit Bella, sitting on Ann Bragg's lap while Betty Kozak holds Suede.

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The best visitors are the kind with twitching noses.

“I wouldn’t pass them up, because they’re just so precious,” said Verna Evanoff, cooing at the black-and-white bunny hunkered down on her lap. Peering down at the sleepy-looking Oreo, she added with a laugh, “As you can see, he likes attention.”

On this day, Oreo, Suede, and the extra-fluffy Bella are comfortably situated on laps at Ohio Living Swan Creek, where retiree residents look forward to biweekly bunny visits. Sunshine Communities provides the rabbits — their clients care for five in hutches in an onsite barn — as well as the caretakers who shuttle the bunnies from lap to lap and take care that they don’t get bored and hop away. (It happens sometimes, said Jen Simon, a direct support professional who oversees the visits, but rarely at the retirement community; they get too much attention there.)

VIDEO: Bunnies visit Ohio Living Swan Creek

The visits benefit both the residents and the caretakers, who make regular animal-related outings as part of a venture barn crew through Sunshine Communities, a Maumee-based nonprofit that provides support and services for people with developmental disabilities. In addition to brightening days at the retirement community and at the nonprofit’s residential facilities with the easily portable rabbits, they also volunteer at barns and at the local humane society.

“We try to go out into the community,” Ms. Simon said. “Sometimes it’s something as simple as shopping for the animals; sometimes it can be volunteering at another barn or coming here.”

In addition to fostering positive community interactions, the outings can, in some cases, give the venture crew a chance to share their knowledge about the rabbits and their care routines.

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Melissa Shetley, standing at left, pets Angora rabbit Bella, sitting on Ann Bragg's lap while Betty Kozak holds Suede.

The Blade/Jetta Fraser
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On a recent Tuesday at Ohio Living Swan Creek, for example, Nick Marker was happy to chat about Suede, a particularly soft and gentle rabbit who quickly won over resident Betty Kozak.

Ms. Kozak, 92, said she makes a point to come to the common area whenever the Sunshine crew shows up with its travel cages. A long time dog and cat owner who does not currently care for any pets, Ms. Kozak said it’s nice to have an animal around.

“When they come, I come,” she said.

Melissa Shetley and Shelly Antkowiak watched over Bella, a tufty angora, while Ashley Simon, who is not related to Jen Simon, kept an eye on Oreo.

The mini rex rabbit made her job easy by sitting contentedly with Ms. Evanoff, 89, who, like Ms. Kozak, said it was nice to interact with an animal again; she recently turned her dog over to friends so that she could move into the retirement community.

“I think I’m going to keep him,” she teased, stroking Oreo’s ears.

Ann Bragg, 84, also came down to visit with the rabbits. She described being similarly pleased with the long-eared visitors.

“I hope they’ll bring them again,” she said.

Contact Nicki Gorny at ngorny@theblade.com or 419-724-6133.

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