Thomaston rabbit shelter owner needs service dog

THOMASTON — Amy Lorenda White loves all animals, but she has a penchant for rabbits and created the Lavender Shelter to share their magical qualities with others in need of comfort and unconditional love.

A resident of Thomaston, White has a number of physical and mental disabilities; he is on the Autism spectrum, has PTSD and suffers from chronic pain from nerve damage, neuropathy and muscle weakness. Five years ago, he was confined to a wheelchair and could not walk. Thanks to physical therapy and her own determined spirit, White is now on her feet, sharing her little rabbit family with children and adults.

But her own service dog, a sturdy German Shepherd named Moose, contracted Lyme disease last year and is no longer up to the task of helping her get up when she falls. Although he is out of a wheelchair, White’s legs are weak and he sometimes falls. She says her type of neuropathy causes numbness in her lower arms and legs, which often makes movement difficult. He told his physical therapist, Shelby Sarracco, that he was out of his wheelchair.

Having a service dog for his family will make a difference in his life, he said. Along with the dog learning to open doors, pick up things, and help him get in and out of a chair or bed, he will have another companion.

“Moose is just a nice guy and he’s been doing his thing for a long time,” White said on a recent afternoon in the backyard of his Thomaston home. Moose went for a walk with White’s daughter Annette, 22, on the nearby grass. “He’s just going to be a pet now and he’s happy. I still need a dog to walk around, to help. I was doing research on dogs. And I learned about ECAD.”

Two years ago, she met several ECAD volunteers who came to see her rabbits. “I didn’t know about ECAD until they told me they were volunteering there on the weekends,” she said. “That’s how I found out what they were doing.”

White is required to raise $25,000 for one of the dogs, which are bred, trained and paired with clients at the nonprofit’s headquarters in Winsted. ECAD dogs are trained to detect medical emergencies, provide emotional and physical support, and guide their companions indoors and outdoors. Each dog’s skills are tailored to their owner; these new owners are required to stay at ECAD’s training center for a final two weeks of training before going home together.

Such training costs more than $25,000, White said. “When you add up the time to train these dogs and the work that ECAD does with their clients, and then the years that they’ve been with you, it means a lot more than that. So if someone like me wants to own a dog, we’re asking to make that financial commitment.” did

“I’ve already raised about $9,000,” she said, adding that her church and local arts organizations are fundraising for her. “People have been so nice and so generous. It’s so inspiring.”

Meanwhile, White continues her work with Lavender’s Refuge. The small nonprofit is a rescue “for people,” not rabbits.

“My goal is to invite people here to hug a rabbit for an hour and de-stress them,” he said. “I was on psychiatric medication for PTSD and now I’m off it; I owe it to the bunnies. They bring me so much comfort and I want to share that with everyone.”

Three of those special rabbits include Pistachio, a gray Dutch Lop; he is friendly and loves to give kisses when he is not playing in the grass in his crate. Hot Fudge is a small Rex rabbit with a very soft coat that is hypoallergenic, meaning it is safe for children and adults with allergies to fur and dander. Grace Ann is a snow-white female Jersey Wooly that looks like a fluffy white ball. He is gentle and loves to cuddle too.

It’s easy to see and feel why these little creatures are such a comfort to someone like White. The Lavender Sanctuary is on a mission to teach people, especially children, how to respect and learn about animals.

“My homeschool groups come to visit and we do a little educational program to get them to understand how to be gentle with animals, how to handle them and why it’s so important,” she said. “But I also want to share ways a rabbit can help you feel better. It’s the most peaceful thing in the world.”

To learn more about Lavender’s Refuge or to fundraise for White’s service dogs, visit her Facebook page

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