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Bunnies aren't always the best choice for an Easter present. A Galax rescue group offers a second chance for rabbits who have been abandoned, abused or neglected.
By SHAINA STOCKTON, Staff
With Easter coming, many parents are stocking up on chocolate to fill baskets, and hiding eggs under every rock and tree in their yard.
And for some families, the very subject of rabbits has prompted a typical request from many children: “Can I have an Easter bunny?”
During the Easter holiday season, buying a rabbit is definitely a temptation — especially since pet stores and rabbit breeders usually have a full stock of little bunnies ready to sell.
But while this seems like a cute idea, such an impulse buy might not turn out as well as you’d think.
A trip to Smokey’s Bunny Haven in Galax shows what can happen if a family isn’t prepared to handle what a cute little bunny will eventually grow into.
The non-profit organization is dedicated to the shelter, rehabilitation and safe rehoming of special needs rabbits.
Kimberly Wilson and Barry Armstrong founded the bunny haven, and incorporated it in May 2012. Wilson says that the organization began with a single “Easter bunny” named Smokey.
Smokey, who was also nicknamed “Monkey,” was one of several baby bunnies sold to a store by a backyard breeder just in time for the holiday. However, Smokey and his sister, Daisy, weren’t as small as their brothers and sisters, so the others were picked out over them.
But eventually their “Papa” came along, when Armstrong stopped by the store where they were being sold and saw their condition.
He realized that Smokey needed medical attention, so he took the rabbits to Wilson. She immediately began to treat Smokey for an upper respiratory infection.
Caring for Smokey wasn’t easy, but it became a labor of love for Wilson. She treated him for chronic respiratory infections, which eventually turned into pneumonia during the first year of his new life. Smokey later developed a benign tumor on the side of his chest, which was surgically removed twice.
Although Smokey was dealt a rough hand in the beginning, the care and love that was given to him by Wilson and Armstrong ensured a better quality throughout the remainder of his life.
He also became the beginning of something even bigger.
Today, Wilson has more than 40 rabbits in her care. Some of them came from situations where there was physical abuse, some from neglectful environments.
Most of them started out as Easter presents.
Even though she is busy with a full-time job, Wilson makes a point to spend time with each rabbit every day.
Touring the Haven
Walking in the front door, a little brown rabbit named Mocha ran to greet a visitor.
A few pens were set up for rabbits to play upstairs, but that was nothing compared to the labyrinth of bunny condos built downstairs.
The haven is mainly in the downstairs area of her home.
In addition to helping with the funding for the haven, Armstrong also constructed several large rabbit houses and cages for the furry tenants to roam around in comfortably.
Rabbits rested and hopped around in spacious play pens full of toys, ramps, cardboard box castles and timothy hay, and some even lived in two-story condos complete with ramps and plenty of places to play hide-and-seek with company.
Outside of each cage was a photo of the bunny or bunnies inside, along with names and important safety or medical information, like "monitor weight" or "caution: may bite."
In every cage lives a rabbit or rabbits with a personality all its own.
“This is Lucy,” she gestured to a three-legged rabbit who was snuggled up against a pile of stuffed animals. “Those are her babies,” she said, and detailed Lucy’s daily routine.
Lucy takes turns taking the animals to the food bowl, litter box, then back to bed for their bath and then their nap. “By the time she finishes her routine, she’s exhausted,” Wilson smiled.
Moving on, she opened the door to a second-story room housing two rabbits huddled against a back corner. “This is Nicholas and Gracie,” she said, noting that they were a little more skittish due to the conditions they had lived in before they reached her. While Gracie remained safely against the wall, protective Nicholas ventured out to see what was going on. “He is very protective over her,” she said.
As the tour continued, Wilson highlighted each rabbit’s unique story, and noted the special needs that she and the volunteers regularly tend to.
All cages were covered on the bottom with a rug instead of bedding, which Wilson said is easier to maintain as they can be vacuumed daily. Every cage was clean, and fresh food, water and hay was readily available.
The organization shelters and rehabilitates rabbits and works to find them suitable homes. In some cases, however, the rabbits are considered un-adoptable. In those cases, they have a permanent home at the haven, and are cared for, petted and loved for the rest of their lives.
However, due to her recent high volume of full cages, Wilson said she simply doesn’t have any more room.
This concerns her, especially because of the upcoming holiday. “Kids beg their parents to buy them the cute little bunny...it’s so hard to resist,” she said.
But a few months later, when the rabbit starts getting bigger, things start to change. “They are no longer tiny and cute, kids lose interest and the rabbit becomes neglected,” she said. “These creatures have no voice to remind you that they are thirsty or hungry when their bowl is empty. Their cages become dirty and start to smell.”
Eventually, these rabbits are, in many cases, dropped off at shelters, released into the wild, or put outside and isolated from the rest of the family.
A poem posted on the House Rabbit Society’s website called “Easter Bunny,” by Mary Brandolino, quickly became a favorite of Wilson’s. “It describes their situation perfectly. Everyone should read it,” she said.
Rabbits as Pets
Wilson noted that she in no way wanted to discourage people from buying pet rabbits. “Rabbits are wonderful pets, but they’re not like a dog or a cat. They require a lot of special care and attention.
“Before purchasing a rabbit, make an informed decision. Learn how to properly care for a rabbit,” she said.
When properly cared for, rabbits can live from seven to 10 years, she said. They need daily monitoring and plenty of fresh water and timothy hay. Food pellets should be monitored and given in limited quantities. Wooden chews and cardboard houses should also be provided so that they can chew and trim down their constantly-growing teeth. To avoid hormonal problems and risks of certain diseases later in life, rabbits need to be spayed or neutered.
Rabbits generally have some characteristics that may be considered drawbacks. For example, unlike a dog or a cat, most rabbits aren’t fans of being picked up. They are easily scared, so many will resort to kicking, jumping and biting to get out of their captor’s arms.
Rabbits are also very sensitive. They are easily scared, and can even die if they receive a sudden shock. And, since these pets are considered “exotic” by many veterinarians, medical care usually comes from a specialist, and the bills easily add up to high dollar amounts.
However, pet rabbits also have several great qualities. They are easily litter-box trained, which makes romps out of the cage less stressful for owners. They also keep themselves immaculately clean when they are given the proper environment.
“Most people are disappointed that a rabbit doesn’t do anything but sit in a cage and make a mess. by interacting with the rabbit, you will get to enjoy their individual personality,” Wilson said. “Domestic rabbits run, buck, kick and play just like the wild rabbits you see in fields when given the chance to stretch their legs. Rabbits can make wonderful members of the family.”
But the important thing that Wilson wants people to remember is to consider all of the pros and cons before making this decision.
A rabbit is a long commitment. If buying a rabbit for Easter is an impulse purchase, and it’s likely that the novelty would quickly wear off, buying a stuffed rabbit or a chocolate bunny could still make a child happy — and potentially save the life of an innocent animal.