SALT LAKE CITY -- For many veterans, the support of therapy animals can be life-changing, and for residents at a Salt Lake veterans home, an unusual animal is filling that role.
“We have dogs, cats, we have a hundred-pound sulcata tortoise who is now in hibernation, and we have Charlie the kangaroo,” said Noralyn Kahn, an administrator at the William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake City Veterans Home. “In the last 16 years, I’ve raised 14 kangaroos in my nursing home."
Charlie is growing up with the love and support of dozens of residents.
“As a tiny kangaroo, they can hold him and love him, and feed him a bottle," Kahn said. "And, as he gets bigger, he just hops all over the facilities.".
Kahn acknowledges it's an unusual sight: “I’ve had a resident call their family and say ‘You know, a kangaroo just hopped by’, and it’s like, ‘Mom, we need to look at your medication.’”
Resident Art Nunn said he was shocked the first time he saw Charlie.
“Well, the first time I was, I thought I’d lost my taw," he said. "And then I got thinking, 'Wait a minute. He's wearing a diaper. He must belong here.'"
Still, the results speak for themselves.
Staff members said Charlie brightens up the home.
“He is an amazing therapy pet that allows the residents to laugh, the children aren’t afraid to come see grandma and grandpa cause they can come see Charlie, it’s all positive,” Kahn said.
And the veterans agree.
“People don't believe that they can walk over and pat a kangaroo, and I say never miss a chance, you'll never know when it will happen again," Nunn said.
And for some, the experience can be life changing.
“They love to be touched, they love to be held, and that touch, that furry touch or that warm tongue, makes such a difference in the lives of the residents,” Kahn said. “He has done such a great job for those that are depressed, those who maybe aren’t really aware of their surroundings. If you put an animal or a baby in their laps: They come right back home."
Staff members said when the kangaroos reach puberty, they become more aggressive and are sent to a farm to live out their remaining days.
However, they said Charlie hasn't shown any signs of aggression at this point, so he can continue to provide therapy for the residents.