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Rabbit rescuers hop to it

on November 20, 2009

Fluffy bunnies are the star of many a family Easter celebration. In too many households, however, they get a quick 15 minutes of fame and are then abandoned in an open field or dumped at a shelter. There, kill rates for rabbits can be as high as 90 percent.

All HRS rabbits have been spayed or neutered, microchipped, and evaluated for health conditions by Dr. Dr. Caroline Harvey from the Chabot Veterinary Clinic in Hayward.

All HRS rabbits have been spayed or neutered, microchipped, and evaluated for health conditions by Dr. Caroline Harvey from the Chabot Veterinary Clinic in Hayward.

By this point in the year, many rabbits have the national House Rabbit Society (HRS), headquartered in Richmond, to thank for standing between them and almost certain death. Since a group of Bay Area animals lovers decided to base its national rabbit education campaign out of Richmond 21 years ago, more than 20,000 rabbits have been spared from euthanization nationwide, according to the HRS Web site.

But, as is the case with most animal shelters in today’s poor economy, the HRS headquarters is struggling to scale back its operations to match a smaller budget.

Donations, grants and adoptions are down and Jack Doran, manager of the Richmond HRS shelter, said he still has not figured out where to cut his budget for the average of 30 abandoned rabbits the shelter typically cares for.

The Richmond HRS takes eight to 12 rabbits a month from at least 14 shelters, as far south as Monterey and as far north as Martinez, Doran said. The number Doran‘s shelter can house depends on the number of spaces left by rabbits that the Richmond HRS has found homes for, he said.

Doran said he hopes foster homes and volunteers can step up to offer more spaces for rabbits he takes from the shelters.

There are fewer than 10 HRS foster homes in the area. But some people, like Richmond HRS volunteer supervisor Carolyn Mosher, take as many as 15 rabbits at a time. Mosher said she loves their company so much she converted her garage into a warm place devoted to housing as many as she can.

Rabbits are timid animals that typically only feel uninhibited in completely familiar surroundings, Mosher said. Once owners become a trusted member of that world, it’s rewarding to see the animals’ vibrant personalities. These are sometimes manifested in activities such as “binking:” a kind of dance that includes stomping and twisting variations in rabbits’ hopping patterns.

There are other perks, too, she said.

“They’re great pruners, so I love to garden with them out in the backyard,” Mosher said, adding that rabbit waste has been proven to be some of the best rose fertilizer around. “They’re also fairly easy to housebreak and can be trained to use litter boxes.”

Just like many dog and cat rescue groups, HRS is in no hurry to give its rabbits away to unfit owners. Knowing that the rabbit is being adopted for the right reasons and to people that really know what rabbits need and like is a must, she said.

“They have a fragile sensibility and don’t like a lot of noise, so they’re not for everybody. They aren’t playthings like some people want them to be,” Mosher said.

Around Easter, the Richmond HRS even suspends adoptions for more than a month, to keep their rabbits from becoming a springtime novelty.

Volunteers like Kimberly Dutra don’t want to chase down abandoned rabbits at places like the 280 Freeway in San Bruno. That’s where Dutra found her most recent pet earlier this year.

When those working at HRS do find the right people to take in rabbits, however, they stress to rabbit-seekers that HRS offers a more transparent transaction and more value when choosing a pet than most commercial pet stores.

At the time of adoption, all HRS rabbits have been spayed or neutered, microchipped, and evaluated for health conditions by Dr. Caroline Harvey. She comes from the Chabot Veterinary Clinic in Hayward to perform medical evaluations and procedures at a discount. The discount adds a financial incentive to adopting from the shelter.

It also insures that pet owners will know basic information about the rabbit, such as its age, breed, sex and possible chronic health problems—something many pet shops sell rabbits without, according to Mosher.

“Sometimes when you buy them from a pet store, [the clerks] don’t even know what gender they are until you’ve bought them and–whoops–you find out you’ve got a boy and girl in the same cage,” Mosher said.

Click here to take a look at the rabbits that Richmond’s HRS shelter is trying to find homes for, to learn more about rabbits, or to find out how to volunteer.


  1. tabitha on May 14, 2010 at 8:19 am

    this used to be my bunnny. miss oyu bunny. but we just couldnt keep you.

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