EXCHANGE: Sanctuary saves animals, helps people

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SYCAMORE, Ill. (AP) — Holding a blind rabbit was soothing for Marlene Cleis, a 72-year-old woman who has Alzheimer's disease.

Cleis has lived for almost three years at Lincolnshire Place, 710 Vellagio Drive, Sycamore, a memory care center with 42 residents, all of whom suffer from some form of Alzheimer's. Cleis said holding a blind rabbit named Bluemoon reduced her stress levels.

"I think it calms you down and makes you appreciate nature," Cleis said while petting the rabbit. "It's just soothing. It doesn't demand anything of you, just love."

The pet therapy session Nov. 26 was provided by Bluemoon Sanctuary, a DeKalb-based nonprofit organization that rescues rabbits and provides pet therapy for Alzheimer's patients. Bluemoon Sanctuary was founded in 2013 and has 23 rescue animals, including 15 rabbits, according to its Facebook page.

Nov. 26 was the first time Bluemoon Sanctuary held a pet therapy session at Lincolnshire Place.

However, other organizations, such as Therapy Dogs International, have stopped by in the past to help Alzheimer's patients, said Tina Thompson, community director at Lincolnshire Place.

"It makes them feel like they're loving something, like taking care of something," Thompson said. "It uplifts their attitude. Someone who's confused can make full sentences with pets."

Bluemoon Sanctuary began after DeKalb resident Carrie Caljkusich adopted Bluemoon from TAILS Humane Society, 2250 Barber Greene Road, DeKalb, about 3 ½ years ago.

As Caljkusich and her husband, Steven, learned about the rabbit, they realized there was no one in the area who was rescuing rabbits.

The Caljkusiches rescue and rehabilitate rabbits from animal shelters or from people who find domestic rabbits in their backyard.

They let the animals roam free in their DeKalb home and provide food and veterinary care.

Steven Caljkusich estimated his family spends about $250 a month on food alone, which he said is not a significant cost to the family.

They privately fund the normal day-to-day care of rescues, but they do accept donations for a veterinary fund in addition to accepting donations of various toys for the rabbits.

"We try to do what we can with what we've got," Carrie Caljkusich said. "We know our limitations, but we're dedicated to what we do."

The pet therapy started partially because of Carrie Caljkusich's mother, Marlene Cleis. When Carrie Caljkusich would stop by at Lincolnshire Place to visit her mother with her rabbits, other residents would flock to her and ask about the rabbit, she said.

According to the nonprofit organization, Alzheimer's Project, research shows that people with dementia recognize a pet as friendly and non-threatening. When they have a pet with them, studies show they display more interactive behaviors, Alzheimer's Project states.

"There are some that have standoffish personalities that wouldn't talk to me," Steven Caljkusich said, "but bringing and showing the bunnies starts the process of getting them talking and remembering."

Holding an albino rabbit reminded James Elliott, 77, of DeKalb of his time living on a DeKalb farm near Northern Illinois University. Elliott, who has Alzheimer's, said his family used to hunt rabbits and it would make him cry.

Elliott called the rabbits he saw Nov. 26 his friends.

"Just seeing them run from one end to the other, it's really neat," he said. "They're just beautiful."


Source: The (DeKalb) Daily Chronicle,


Information from: The Daily Chronicle,

This is an Illinois Exchange story shared by The (DeKalb) Daily Chronicle.

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ANDREA AZZO(DeKalb) Daily Chronicle


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