Ethan the Therapy Rabbit Brings Calm to Hospice Patients

Ethan. Photo courtesy of Laurie Friedman

Ethan the rabbit has a way of making people stop what they’re doing. It’s not just that he’s white and fluffy. Ethan is big, like a filled grocery bag.

“He’s a squish-mallow and awesome,” says Laurie Friedman, a hospice volunteer with Jewish Social Service Agency (JSSA) and People, Animals, Love (PAL).

Friedman’s daughter is Ethan’s owner. Friedman noticed how calming Ethan was, and that he didn’t startle easily. People became happy whenever they pet him.

So Friedman, a 60-year-old Bethesda resident, began taking Ethan on her visits to a hospice center and an Alzheimer’s care facility.

One particularly powerful interaction Friedman remembers is with a patient who was not speaking or responding to people.

Friedman said she walked into the room where the man was sitting in a wheelchair. She asked him if he wanted to touch Ethan. Friedman said something connected when the rabbit hopped onto the man’s lap.

The man started petting him and asked, “What does Ethan like to eat?” Friedman said. The caregivers were shocked.

Friedman said that patients and caregivers immediately want to pet Ethan when he comes to hospice centers. “It’s almost magical to have an interruption of lightness and something exciting,” she added.

Friedman has been volunteering at hospice centers since 2022 but started bringing Ethan with her a couple of months ago. “It’s another level of enrichment for the person that’s in hospice care and it’s a lovely extra thing,” she said.

A pain coach by profession, she’s wanted to do this kind of volunteering since a friend contracted AIDS in 1990. In the last year of his life, he talked about dying and became generous with the life he lived, she said.

Thirty years after he died, those conversations stuck with her, particularly, “Just show up. It doesn’t matter what you do or say; just be there for people.”

Like Ethan, Friedman is calm in the presence of a dying person, and it does not matter if she knows someone. “Being with someone at the end of their life is a profound honor,” she said.

A member of Temple Beth Ami, Friedman said she would “love for people to be inspired to train animals to be therapy animals.”

She said Ethan’s schedule is pretty packed since he is requested so often and he and Friedman only see two clients a week.

“There’s only so much time we both have,” Friedman said. ■

Charlotte Freedberg is a freelance writer.

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