For many military veterans, the support of therapy animals can be life-changing. For residents at a Salt Lake City veterans home, the same holds true. Though where one may be accustomed to seeing a dog or cat fill such a role, at the William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake City Veterans Home a rather unusual animal is getting the job done.
Charlie, a one-year-old baby red kangaroo is providing love and support to dozens of delighted residents. The impact of therapy animals is well known, but Charlie the therapy kangaroo brings an entirely different dimension to this wonderful time-tested concept. The veterans love having him there and for some it is an unforgettable joy.
“He is an amazing therapy pet that allows the residents to laugh and share the joy of having him visit,” said Noralyn Kahn, Charlie’s caretaker and an administrator at the home. On a given day Charlie can be seen lounging in a resident’s arms for hours, just cuddling or letting them bottle-feed him. Sometimes he’ll bounce over to a resident’s room to share a piece of licorice or politely beg for a bite of apple. For everyone, the constant hopping around is always a highlight of the day.
“Our residents are sometimes in their own worlds, and animals have a unique quality that helps bring them back,” says Kahn. In the last 16 years, Kahn has helped raise 14 kangaroos to work as therapy animals in nursing homes but she confesses that Charlie is her favorite by far.
And the residents aren’t the only ones who benefit, as Charlie’s presence also encourages young children to visit their family members.
“Kids are often afraid of nursing homes because they become uneasy at seeing the effects of the residents deteriorating condition or sometimes frightening behaviors such as in Alzheimer patients. With Charlie there, it makes the visit much less stressful,” says Kahn.
Noralyn says that when kangaroos reach adolescence they tend to become more aggressive, at which time they are “retired” to a Kangaroo farm with their predecessors where they are tended to and cared for through their remaining years. Until that time comes for Charlie, however, he will continue to dispense his daily dose of therapy and bring smiles to the faces of all those he meets.
For their selfless work to bring comfort and support to veterans, Charlie and Noralyn were recently honored as local Red Cross Heroes by the American Red Cross Utah Region.
Speaking about the recognition Noralyn says, “Charlie seriously deserves it. He gives unconditional love.”
“The tie-in to veterans is especially great, because the Red Cross has such a deep history and affinity for the military and our veterans,” said Rich Woodruff, Communications Director of the Red Cross Utah Region, “The fact that he’s a kangaroo is an interesting story in itself but the real story is the positive impact Charlie has on the lives of veterans.”
Woodruff recalls Noralyn sharing a story that demonstrated just how much Charlie means to the residents. “One of the veterans was in hospice care in his final hours, and before he passed, he just wanted to hold Charlie. It’s such an emotional connection.”