“Unleashing Happiness” a monthly blog by Karen Lee Stevens

Founder and Director of Wellness Programs, Karen Lee Stevens shares her insights as she explores regular topics and experiences through the lens of mental health, wellness and the human-animal bond.

Therapy Dogs of Santa Barbara - Blog Post - Hoppy Hearts

BLOG POST #4 – Hoppy Hearts



The day started off like any other Tuesday, but it soon turned into something magical that would open me up to the joys of volunteering. I was helping out at a local animal shelter and the lead volunteer suggested we bring bunnies into a local nursing home for an animal therapy visit. I was intrigued and immediately scooped up a fluffy bunny with velvety fur that felt like a cloud under my fingertips. Her gentle twitching nose and floppy ears added to her charm and her big, expressive eyes invited me into a world of softness and warmth.

The nursing home, with its antiseptic hallways and harsh, fluorescent lighting, was sorely lacking any soothing ambience and personal touches that could have greatly contributed to the patients’ recovery. Determined to make the best of the visit, I made my way from room to room, offering a visit from my charming new friend. As I stopped in the doorway of one room, I could see an elderly lady slumped over in her wheelchair, staring listlessly at the wall. Her adult daughter sat nearby and motioned for me to come in. Mom was nonverbal, but her eyes followed my every move. I explained that I had brought a bunny for her to pet and gently placed the fluff ball in her lap.

The elderly lady sat quietly and smiled during our brief visit. Honestly, I didn’t think I had made much of an impression, but I was about to learn the true power of pet therapy.

As I said my goodbyes and started walking down the dreary hallway, the elderly lady’s daughter ran after me, tears streaming down her face. “That was the first time my mom has smiled in weeks!” she managed to say in between sobs. She went on to explain that her mom recently suffered a stroke and was no longer able to speak. In the grip of depression, the elderly lady found solace and joy when that little bunny nestled in her lap.

On that day, with that little bunny, a spark ignited within me that would illuminate my path toward unforeseen possibilities and growth as an animal therapy volunteer.

Like me, if you’ve ever volunteered for a cause close to your heart, you know it’s not about the accolades; it’s about the difference we make in the lives of others. And that’s what International Volunteer Day is all about. Celebrated each year on December 5, it is a reminder that the world is in need of the unique gifts only you can offer. Whether it’s taking a therapy dog into a school where at-risk children can practice reading aloud to a nonjudgemental listener, serving meals at a homeless shelter, or planning a gigantic gala for a global audience, your contribution is like a beacon of light in a sometimes dark world.

In the end, volunteering is not just about the impact we make; it’s about the connections we forge and the lives we touch. The elderly lady’s smile, born from a simple visit with a bunny, echoes the profound truth that volunteering has a ripple effect of compassion. So, let today be an invitation to embrace the magic that unfolds when you offer a piece of your heart to those who need it most. Each act of kindness, no matter how small, has the power to brighten someone’s day and, as I’ve witnessed countless times, even transform their life.

Questions, comments? Contact Karen@TherapyDogsSB.org

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