Lillie Anne is our older sister, but usually Jason and I feel like big brothers to her because she has Down’s syndrome, which sets her back a little.
Lillie Anne loves everybody, and all those who really know her love her. She loves Heavenly Father, too, and always tries to do what’s right and what she thinks will please Mom and Dad. So nobody was prepared for the problem we had with her.
It started because Lillie Anne likes animals so much. She likes to hug and kiss cats and dogs, despite our warnings about germs and the dangers of strange animals. We’ve never had a pet because Mom and Jason are allergic to many animals. So whenever Mom goes to the store, Lillie Anne stops and visits Mr. Osterloh and plays with his animals. Mr. Osterloh is Lillie Anne’s friend.
One day in June, Mr. Osterloh came to the door with an onion sack in his arms. When I answered the door, I thought he was bringing us some vegetables from his little garden. But he asked for Lillie Anne. After I called her to the door, he handed her the sack. She was grinning from ear to ear as she opened it. A little floppy-eared black rabbit was inside. She hugged it tight, her face beaming like it was Christmas. The rabbit just sat there in her arms, twitching its nose.
So that’s how we got Harry. Even though they’d agreed to having the rabbit, Mom and Jason sneezed quite a lot at first because Harry ran all around the house. Then Dad bought a little cage for Lillie Anne to keep Harry in when he was inside. She carried Harry around in it all the time. She took him outside to run and play on the grass, but he slept in his cage at night in her room. They were pretty much inseparable.
There was one problem. Not what you’d think. Not the allergies or the kissing (though she does kiss Harry’s nose). You’d never guess. Lillie Anne wouldn’t go to church without Harry! She flatly refused. And when Lillie Anne flatly refuses, there’s not a whole lot anyone can do about it.
Mom and Dad talked to her a lot about how we can’t take pets to church. They explained how it would disrupt the reverence. The home teachers came and talked to her about how animals belong at home. Jason and I pointed out that Harry might get hungry or thirsty, but she didn’t see why that was a big problem. She just wouldn’t go without him.
We had a family council and decided that we’d have to take turns staying home with her until we found a solution. For the next two Sundays, Lillie Anne looked pretty sad and miserable as the rest of us left for church. But she still wouldn’t go without Harry.
Then on Wednesday, I came home from soccer practice to find her sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper. This is unusual, because Lillie Anne is still struggling with picture books. Her face was all lit up like she was looking at an angel or something.
“Michael!” she cried. “Look! Look at this boy!” I looked at the newspaper and saw a picture of a boy with very thin arms and legs holding the harness of a big black Labrador retriever. “Read it, Michael. Read it to me.”
I read the article to Lillie Anne. It was about a boy named Abram who didn’t have as many muscles as other people. He had a dog, Tacoma, that went everywhere with him. The dog helped him up if he fell, carried his books to school, and helped in many other ways. I thought Lillie Anne was just interested because she loves dogs, but I was wrong.
“A helper dog, a helper dog,” she kept saying. “Abram has a helper dog. The dog goes everywhere with him.”
Then she laid it on me. “Harry is a helper rabbit. He goes everywhere with me.”
Once she started on this, there was no getting it out of her head. Mom and Dad explained that the dog in the article had been trained for months and the boy had to leave home for a while and be trained along with the dog. Lillie Anne took a lot of interest in all this, but it didn’t change her mind. Jason pointed out that the dog wore a harness, and when he was working, people couldn’t pet him and play with him, unlike a rabbit.
“How is Harry a helper rabbit?” I asked. “How does he help you?”
She thought for a minute. “He makes me happy. He is my very own friend every minute.”
That Sunday Mom stayed home with Lillie Anne. As we left for church, my sister stood at the front gate with Harry draped over her arm. She watched us go with a sad and teary-eyed face. I couldn’t stand it. I had to do something. As we walked to church, I figured out a plan. After sacrament meeting, I found Bishop Lyman and asked if we could talk. When we went into his office and sat down, I was a little nervous.
“Michael,” he said, “what can I do for you?”
“Bishop, if someone in our ward were blind, would you let him bring a guide dog to church?”
“Well, of course. A guide dog can go everywhere.” He smiled at me in a puzzled way.
“Well, what if a person had a different problem,” I continued. “What if they couldn’t walk very well, and they had a helper dog. Could that dog come?”
He thought for a minute. “Oh, I’m sure it could. It would be trained to lie quietly during meetings.”
I squirmed a little. I felt silly comparing a little black rabbit to an intelligent, trained dog, but I could see Lillie Anne’s sad eyes in my mind, so I said it, anyway. “If someone like Lillie Anne has a rabbit that she thinks of as a helper rabbit, would it be all right if she brought it to church?”
Bishop Lyman smiled and said, “A helper rabbit. I’ve never heard of that.” Then he became serious, looked at me very kindly, and said, “Michael, I’m afraid a rabbit would hop around and distract people and make a mess on the floor.”
“Lillie Anne carries him around in a small cage, so that wouldn’t be a problem,” I said. “She hasn’t been coming to church because we told her Harry couldn’t come. But don’t you think people would get used to seeing him with her and then not take much notice after a while?”
“Hmmm.” Bishop Lyman thought for a few minutes. “Your mother and father have told me how Lillie Anne is refusing to come to church without him.” He thought some more. “Well, Michael, animals are important to us. The pioneers wouldn’t have made it across the plains without their animals. We’ll have to make sure the other children understand that Harry isn’t just a pet, that he helps Lillie Anne with her special circumstances. If we do that, we could try it.”
“Thank you!” I jumped to my feet. “It’ll work. You’ll see.”
The bishop smiled at me as I bolted out of his office and home as fast as I could to tell Lillie Anne.
The next Sunday, Lillie Anne was dressed and ready to go to church. She carried Harry in his cage as we walked to church. That really happy look was back on her face again—and on all our faces too.
At first, the kids wanted to pet Harry, but Lillie Anne explained that he was a helper rabbit and couldn’t play during churchtime. Then she told them that if they wanted to pet him, they could come over to the house sometime and play.
It wasn’t long until everyone accepted that, and now Harry sits quietly in his cage on the seat beside Lillie Anne through all the Church meetings every week. Lots of kids come to our house to see Lillie Anne and Harry, the helper rabbit. Harry loves the attention, and Lillie Anne is very happy. We’re all happy.