This is a story that will make you believe in the Easter Bunny.
Just ask Shriners Hospital volunteer Barbara Koenigsmark, this year’s recipient of the hospital’s highest volunteer honor —the Doug Busath Lifetime Achievement Award.
For the past 15 years, Barbara and her bunny have made hospital rounds twice a month like clockwork. Fondly known as “the bunny lady,” Barbara says her passion for pet therapy began with an Easter gift that was delivered nearly two decades ago.
“I began learning about rabbits when my daughter was given a bunny for Easter. When it came time for my daughter to leave the nest, the bunny became mine,” says Barbara, who heard about the pet therapy program at Shriners Hospital through the Sacramento House Rabbit Society. “When I retired from my career as a registered nurse, I decided to learn about the program and determine if a bunny would be an acceptable participant.”
In 2003, Shriners Hospital welcomed Barbara and her bunny to the volunteer pet therapy team.
“Over the past 15 years, Barbara has volunteered with five rabbits — Brezel, Kimmie, Kirby, Kylie, and now Bentley,” says Pet Therapy Coordinator Meredith Holkeboer. Counted among the team of pet therapy volunteers are dogs, two miniature horses and bunnies, of course.
“The bunnies are great to have for younger children who have small laps and may be afraid of larger animals,” says Meredith.
“The kids are generally surprised and delighted to see a bunny, and they enjoy the experience. They ask where he lives, what he eats, and first of all, what’s his name? The bunny is always welcome in the Shriners Hospital school room, and parents waiting for their children to come out of surgery appreciate relief from the stress of their waits,” says Barbara.
Over the years, Barbara has expanded her volunteer service to include speaking to community groups about the pet therapy program, discussing rabbit health and behavior with animal science students, visiting assisted living facilities, participating in special events and providing shelter for rescue bunnies.
Barbara thanks the Sacramento chapter of the House Rabbit Society for teaching her about bunnies, telling her about Shriners Hospital, and finding loving homes for bunnies rescued from shelters. Five of those bunnies found a home with Barbara and, in turn, Shriners Hospital, where Bentley and the “bunny lady” make their rounds twice a month.