EIP Clinic Students and Faculty Provide Assistance to Client Establishing Animal Assisted Therapy Organization

If you want to attract attention for your organization, carting around a Flemish Giant rabbit, named Bruce Lee, is a great way to do it, says recent graduate Jessica Schmit, JD '14, of her work on a project for the Entrepreneurship & Intellectual Property (EIP) Clinic.

Schmit enrolled in the clinic last fall to gain professional practice experience helping clients with legal issues related to intellectual property and setting up nonprofits. What she didn’t realize was that her first client would be so colorful. Assigned to work with Dr. Nisha Full Moon Chand who raises Flemish rabbits as service and therapy animals, Schmit got much more than she could have ever have anticipated.

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Chand, who holds advanced degrees in veterinary science, animal assisted therapy, and naturopathic medicine, is deaf. She trains rabbits to assist her personally and for use in her medical alert and therapeutic animal organization, IorekSKAAT. At home, Bruce Lee will follow Chand around and when a sound goes off, he will nibble on her pants leg or pull on her shoe lace to alert her. He also recognizes the words “sit,” “stay,” “jump,” “don’t jump,” “water,” “bread,” “oatmeal,” “Cheerios,” “apple,” and “banana,” and is able to communicate “yes” and “no” through flopping his ears, Chand says.

Last fall, Chand sought out the assistance of Schmit and the EIP Clinic’s faculty and staff to help set up her nonprofit organization. The combination of letters in the name, IorekSKAAT, pays tribute to the name of her first rabbit, draws from her mother’s initials, and adds an acronym for Animal Assisted Therapy. Chang’s ultimate goal for IorekSKAAT is to establish a facility to train her rabbits and to teach others how to use rabbit assisted therapy.

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With the help of EIP Clinic Co-directors Geetha Sant and David Deal, Schmit helped Chand with drafting by-laws, preparing to file articles of incorporation, and filling out forms required to become a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Since Schmit does not know sign language or how to communicate via a support rabbit, initially just communicating about what was required to create the nonprofit presented a challenge, she says.

“It was a great experience in problem-solving and creative thinking,” Schmit recalls, explaining that the students used a combination of writing on the clinic white board and pantomime. “Dr. Chand is very inspirational, and it was really rewarding to be able to put my legal training to work to help her with her dream of forming her nonprofit.”

Chand notes that Flemish rabbits are highly intelligent and communicative so after one to two years of training, they are ideal for her medical alert service and animal assisted therapy organization. Among IorekSKAAT’s community outreach efforts, Chand and her volunteer staff take the rabbits to nursing homes and disability agencies to provide therapeutic services.

The organization currently has 15 rabbits, two of which are Flemish Giants, which can weigh as much as 25 pounds. The other smaller rabbits are used for therapy only. Chand observes that therapeutic support rabbits work well with individuals who have been abused so they can become accustomed to being touched again, and with people suffering from depression to help them express emotions.

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During the spring semester, then third-year law students Nina Cao, JD'14, and Garrett Hausman, JD '14, worked with Chand on finalizing the bylaws, corporate policies, and Chand’s application for 501(c)(3) status. They also assisted her with setting up a business license for a thrift shop of donated items, the proceeds of which will benefit IorekSKAAT. Like Schmit, Cao says that in addition to fine-tuning her legal skills, she has gained an appreciation for the goals of the organization’s board members.

“I am really impressed by how passionate they are in building and developing as a nonprofit organization,” Cao says. “Even though life is not easy for those board members who are hearing impaired, they are working to make life better not only for themselves, but also to improve the general welfare of so many others whom their organization touches.”

Wendy Schlesinger, Summer 2014