The Role of Sanctuaries in Rabbit Rescue: How a sanctuary differs from a private home

When we think of the word “sanctuary,” we think of a place of refuge or protection: a peaceful and quiet place to call home. By definition it is just that, as well as being a place which shelters us from danger or hardship. Animal sanctuaries can provide a safe place for different types of animals but there are many limitations in what we can do and some drawbacks with placement.

At Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary we care for between 50 and 70 rabbits at a time. Why do they end up at our door? Our most common reasons seem to be abuse, abandonment, threat of euthanization at a city or county shelter, or owners who surrender them. We know the best placement for a rabbit or any animal is in a loving home where they are a part of the family structure. However, this is not always possible.

Sanctuaries and rabbits: fact vs. fiction

It is a misconception that sanctuaries have unlimited space, or that they can take in large numbers of rabbits on a regular basis. This is simply not true. Our space is defined and does not expand with the number of rabbits who come in. Most sanctuaries set a maximum on their intake of rabbits and simply will not exceed it. It doesn’t take long to fill available slots. Unlike adoption programs, our rabbits usually do not leave. This is their home for the remainder of their life. Once the slot is filled it does not open up again until that rabbit passes away.

Another misconception is that we have the staff and medical supplies to treat large numbers of rabbits. Unfortunately, we usually don’t have either. Our budget is stretched thin due to our aging population and the medical care they need in their later years. Vet bills take a large bite out of our budget. Additionally, as the rabbits age or become disabled they need specialized supplies, equipment and care.

Finally, some presume a rabbit would be happier at a sanctuary than in a loving home. I strongly disagree. Although we care for the rabbits daily through cleaning, feeding, grooming and medicating there is no possible way we can give 70 rabbits individualized attention to connect with them and keep them socialized. We know their names. We know who is sick and who isn’t. Sadly, I may never know if Rascal would like to sit on my lap to watch a movie or if Fergie would like to sleep on my bed with me. A sanctuary provides a different experience for a rabbit than a private home would.


If sanctuaries are not the answer to rabbit rescue, what is? We all know controlling reproduction is the number one issue in rescue. The less rabbits there are to rescue, the better. Affordable spay/neuter programs are essential to stop the overpopulation of any animal species-not just rabbits. However, the inequality of the services available is astounding. One of our local vets will spay a feral cat for free under a voucher system or will spay a privately owned cat for $40. They charge $275 to spay a rabbit. If rabbit guardians cannot find affordable surgeries, the possibility of unwanted litters increases.

What else needs to happen?

  • Implement mandatory spay/neuter programs in all of our city and county shelters. There is no reason why any rabbit should be adopted from a shelter intact (meaning unspayed or unneutered).
  • Educate shelter staff on the most current medical care and rabbit behavior. This will help stop problems before they start.
  • Develop a network of sanctuary foster homes to help with the most needy rabbits or those who are no longer thriving in a group setting.
  • Establish emergency housing for large group rescue, which allows time for triage and placement arrangements.

Although sanctuaries do play a role in rabbit rescue, it’s a small role and the placement of a rabbit in a sanctuary should be a thoughtful decision.


Communal dining inside the 800 square foot rabbit building at Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary.

By Karen Courtemanche

House Rabbit Journal Winter 2011: Volume V, Number 6

For more on the spirit that drives the HRS sanctuary program, read this brochure, care of the Kerulos Institute.