Keeping Bunnies in the Pink: HRS Sponsors a Very Special Health Conference

Happy, Healthy, and Wise. That’s how we want our rabbits to be. As a rescue organization, HRS’s purpose is to save bunnies from untimely deaths and from situations in which they are unwanted. The next purpose is to enhance the quality of the lives we save by placing them in loving homes. And then for all the bunnies who live in loving homes, we want to extend their lives for as long as possible.

For every one of these goals, we need veterinarians. The rabbits we rescue must have a health evaluation and be spayed or neutered before they can be placed for adoption. When we rescue a rabbit, we are assuming responsibility for that individual in every way. Many rabbits remain weeks or months in foster homes, where they receive ongoing care and veterinary supervision. People who adopt rabbits also want to keep them in good health.

One of the greatest demands on our national and local volunteers is for health-care guidance and veterinary referrals. HRS fosterers and educators are united in a strong opinion on the level of care required for rabbits. It has become apparent that we need to disseminate just what this level of care is.

HRS veterinary seminars

Last spring, we held our first national veterinary conference. Our intention was to bring together veterinarians from all over the country and give them access to the most comprehensive collection of rabbit-care information available anywhere — lectures by experts in rabbit medicine, videotapes of the lectures [as of 11/30/2001 the videotapes are no longer available], behavior information from our education department, handouts, a proceedings book, and a forum for exchanging ideas. From this springboard, we expect a lot of pass-along to other veterinarians.

Our rabbit conference was quite special. It was not only an all-rabbit conference but an all pet-rabbit conference. No information was provided for furriers or meat producers, nor for anyone promoting rabbits for any use other than the one we purport–as cherished companions and family members.

We had two simultaneous programs. Dr. Carolynn Harvey organized the curriculum for the 200 veterinary attendees, and our education director, Margo DeMello put together in-service seminars for the 60+ HRS representatives from throughout the country, who were here to help with the conference. They both did a tremendous job!

Comments by attendees

Dr. Colette Wheler of Saskatchewan, Canada commented that she was “surprised at the number of people who attended this meeting!” She also mentioned that it was an “interesting forum for exchange of ideas about how to treat rabbits.” Dr. Susan Kelleher of Hollywood, Florida agreed that it provided “a great opportunity to exchange information and suggestions.”

Dr. Karin Kanton of Madison, Wisconsin said she was “glad to see a species specific conference.”

We were glad that our intentions were realized in those areas. Suggestions for improvements follow:

“Excellent conference,” said Dr. Elise Thomas of Seattle, Washington. “Nice location, good food. Conference material-informative, well presented, useful. Please have more! Disappointed in so many overlapping sessions, suggest shorter sessions so that we can attend more of them instead of having to choose.”

Dr. Jennifer Saver of Franklin Square, New York added, “HRS staff was great as were the exhibits. Lectures were very informative — wish I could have attended them all.”

Most attendees were frustrated that we had too many equally interesting lectures going concurrently. We knew in advance that this would be a problem, but quite frankly, we thought this veterinary conference would be a one-time thing, and we wanted to cover all topics we possibly could within an affordable time frame (of three days). As a possible solution, we did videotape all sessions and have them available. Of course there is no substitute for physically being there, but this is the next best thing. An hour-long videotape, especially in conjunction with a 10-minute reading from each synopsis in the syllabus, gives quite thorough coverage of the subject.

Things we liked hearing

“A bit more on behavior,” says Dr. Kathy Hinkle of Rohnert Park, California, “for those of us who are new to the subject — would be great.”

Most attendees agreed with Dr. Sharon Torrisi of Hermosa Beach, California that the “behavior lectures should have been scheduled differently (i.e., not on break time) because they are valuable talks.”

We were delighted with the response to our behavior talks. This tells us how far the veterinary community has come in accepting house rabbits as total beings. Veterinarians at the conference were interested and eager to learn more about rabbit behavior as part of what they need to know in treating rabbits.

Another pleasant surprise was the suggestion of a vet/HRS get together by Dr. Todd Riggan of Austin, Texas that “a happy hour or low-cost evening event would be great.”

We agree. We were expecting the veterinarians to want to go off on their own. But now that we know better, we will certainly have a social activity next time.

Adding to the justification of a next time was Dr. Walter Hoge of San Jose, California, who said, “very well done. This is the first rabbit conference I felt was practical and not hear-say…. The location, food, refreshments, etc. were excellent. Let’s do it again.”

Our attendees have convinced us that we should do it again, though it will have to be in two or three years. An event such as this puts a burden on our work-force (which is all volunteer) and leaves us with little time for maintaining the animals in our care, publishing our newsletters, and performing our other educational duties. We completely missed the spring HRJ, while trying earnestly to explain to our members who could not attend that they, too, will benefit from the wealth of information produced for, during, and as a result of this conference.

Measure of success

As Dr. J. Edward Martin of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania gives “a special thanks to the House Rabbit Society for a very successful 1st conference,” we thank the attendees, who made it successful. We consider it a success if just one rabbit is helped through the improved knowledge, skills, or interest acquired by just one veterinarian during those three days. The last comments give us this assurance.

“Absolutely wonderful!” says Dr. Ken Pawlowski of Sacramento, California. “Incredible group of presenters. Excellent topics and information giving a good foundation for increasing my comfort and enthusiasm for seeing/treating rabbits.”

Dr. Daphne Hill of Fresno, California sums it up with, “this was a very well planned, well-hosted learning event. The size, location, speakers, well balanced speaker menu, spirit of volunteers, and verbal exchange stimulated my rabbit interests and furthered my knowledge. Thank you!”

No. We say again. It’s thank you.

We also want to thank the marvelous speakers who brought the information to the conference and shared it with everyone. The rest of our faculty, not shown in the videographs, were Drs. David Penney, Jeffrey Bryan, Sam Silverman, Bill Harriman, Drury Reavill, Victoria Joseph, and Pamela Eisele. We are grateful to them all.

Marinell Harriman

House Rabbit Journal Summer 1997: Volume III, Number 10