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Warm and fuzzy

Warm and Fuzzy Healers

Isabelle Bouthillette is a zootherapist who loves her job. Zootherapists such as Isabelle use pets to help patients recover from injuries or cope with illnesses or anxieties associated with diseases.

“In my line of work, you have to love what you’re doing, because you’re dealing with serious physical, psychological, or emotional problems every day,” she says.

Helping People Get Better

Zootherapy, also known as animal-assisted therapy or pet therapy, has been around for many centuries. With the help of trained animals, zootherapists strive to achieve specific physical, social, cognitive, and emotional objectives with patients.

Pets promote physical activity, offer unconditional love, provide a comforting presence, evoke a sense of joy, and promote social interaction and interest in life.

Zootherapy is increasingly becoming a valuable therapeutic tool for patients in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, senior homes, private households, palliative care, prisons and mental institutions.

It is used to help children with autism, patients fighting life-threatening diseases or recovering from serious injuries, such as brain trauma, people with psychological or social problems, and seniors who are lonely and isolated from society.

Popular Pets

Isabelle has a menagerie of pets, such as cats, dogs, birds and small mammals, to help her with her therapeutic work. Her pets are her colleagues as well as her friends.

Among her animal entourage, she has a hen called Mini, who was born on her farm. Isabelle took her into her home and made her part of the family. Mini likes to cuddle on her lap and watch TV. She’s quite a hit with her patients.

Her cat, Sultant, is another favourite companion. Sultant hates travelling by car, but loves the patients he works with when he gets to his destination.

Isabelle says that she tries to detach herself emotionally from some of her pets, which is not easy, because it can get quite hard when they pass away. She recently lost her guinea pig and rat.

Boy smiling with a parrot

Hen mini with boy

Lady hugging a guinea pig

Girl and woman with a Doberman.

Lessons for Life

In addition to alleviating pain, suffering, loneliness, and anxiety, she also uses pets to educate people.

For instance, with the help of a Doberman Pinscher–a much-maligned species–she teaches people about discrimination and the tendency to form opinions based on misguided or unsubstantiated information.

She also uses her pets simply for the sake of sheer fun, with no therapeutic or educational objectives. Called Zoo Animation, these are sessions where her pets play and interact with disabled or able-bodied people simply for pleasure or enjoyment.

A Need for Pet Supplies

After their work is done with patients, she keeps her furry companions in her office or at home. To help house, feed and care for her pets, she relies on donations from pet companies, such as Hagen, for food and other pet supplies.

Hagen has been providing Isabelle with essential pet products, including food and litter, for 5 years and she appreciates the ongoing support.

“We receive many requests for donations from diverse animal societies dedicated to animal rescue and shelters. We give significant support particularly to volunteer-based groups,” says Mark Hagen, Director of Research at Rolf C. Hagen Inc. and Hagen Avicultural Research Institute (HARI).
“When I met Isabelle at the Companion Animal Consumer Show at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, I felt that her cause was worthy of our support. Zootherapy is the epitome of humanity’s relationship with companion animals, as it uses the positive energy and warm feelings that pets inspire in us to help us feel better,” he adds.

“Our Hagen Team is proud to support Isabelle’s work by providing cages, food and healthy supplements for her pet family,” says Mark.

Fulfilling Work

Isabelle says she enjoys the challenges of her work, particularly helping kids with autism, where progress can be slow. But when she sees autistic kids open up and connect with pets, and later with humans, it is very rewarding and fulfilling.

Looking ahead into the future, Isabelle says she hopes that she can also offer her services to help comfort children in hospitals.

For more about Isabelle Bouthillette’s work, visit her website at

Isabelle with a girl and dog

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