Amy Espie: In Memoriam

In April 2009, the rabbit community as well as the animal community lost one of its greatest advocates, Amy Espie.

The Conscience of HRS
by Marinell Harriman
Founder, House Rabbit Society

When you visit our library in HRS’s national headquarters, look up the wall border. You will see Amy (Shapiro) Espie’s photo display serenely representing bunnies, who enjoy the respect we know they deserve. These are among the many gifts from Amy Espie.

Amy’s sudden death was a great loss to House Rabbit Society, its volunteers, its rabbits, as well as the other animals affected by her passing. But as she used to say about any animal in her care, we celebrate the joy of the life rather than the sadness of the death. So with that in mind, we will focus the good things she has done.

Amy began her volunteer work as a photographer for the San Francisco SPCA in the mid 1980s. She also became a fosterer for the Berkeley Humane Society and a dog trainer at the Peninsula Humane Society, where she met her husband Charlie Espie.

From the time I first met Amy in 1984, while working on the House Rabbit Handbook, I’ve been inspired by her purity of motive. Nothing was ever self serving. And while facing sad realities every day, she managed to focus on the beauty of animal rescue.

As one of the founding directors of House Rabbit Society in 1988, Amy pushed HRS into being more than just a hobby club, but rather a bona fide rescue organization. For more than twenty years, she has been known as the conscience of that organization. She leaves us with more than photo images and a body of written work, she has left us with a philosophy.

When Amy and Charlie moved from California, they set up an animal sanctuary in Virginia. Amy continued HRS work as the behavior editor for the House Rabbit Journal, in addition to answering online questions from our website. People all over the world are moved by her articles.

Amy had no ego whatsoever. Her driving ambition was solely to promote the best interests of animals. Though brimming with aesthetic talent and gifted as a writer, she desired no praise for herself. Praise could only be directed toward the animals. She made no compromises in choosing their best interests. In order to know what Amy was like, you only had to look at the contentment of her animals.

More thoughts on Amy’s impact

“The rabbit world has lost a good friend with he passing of Amy Espie. I first met Amy in 1990 when I started to volunteer at Peninsula Humane Society. She was the behavioral instructor there. I took a rabbit handling class with her and the rest is history, as she became my mentor and friend. I had a rabbit but knew very little about how to properly care for him.

While working at Peninsula Humane Society, Amy was instrumental in having the rabbits brought inside the shelter when they were living outside at the time; from there many good things happened and we saw many changes. Amy was there to guide me along through many of those changes. I worked at Peninsula Humane Society for sixteen years. It was slow and we took many baby steps, but we saw vast improvement in the care of the rabbits–they became equal to the cats and dogs and now had a voice advocating for them.

In the early nineties Amy met her husband, Charlie, while working at the shelter. He was an Animal Control officer at the time. She was smitten. They married and soon after moved to Virginia. Their dream was to buy some land and have a sanctuary where they could rescue needy animals of all kinds. Their dream became a reality.

Amy will be sorely missed; she was an inspiration to me and she taught me well. I’m sure she will be reunited with many of the animals whose lives she saved at the Rainbow Bridge.”
Donna Jensen, Burrow Inn, San Francisco, CA

“I met Amy in late 1989 when I flew to California for a weekend. I went there to figure out how I could possibly continue to keep up with my 15 rescued rabbits. I visited several foster homes, including Amy’s. I’ll never forget … she had the cutest looking little dwarf rabbit … and I asked if I could hold him. She said rather brusquely that rabbits didn’t like to be held, but if he’d let me I could go ahead and pick him up. I had been away from my own rabbits for only a day at that point, but I missed them and snatched him up. He bit me and Amy laughed. After returning to Washington State, Amy was one of the people I kept in touch with and I learned so much from her about letting rabbits be just who they are … rabbits. I learned through our phone conversations what a passionate and compassionate person Amy was. Once the Internet took over everyone’s lives, we communicated almost exclusively by e-mail and I only now realize how much closer a relationship is when we hear a voice instead of reading typed words.

Amy had a way with words and seemed to have a natural understanding of all species. She was among other things, an animal behaviorist and wrote about how different species could interact congenially with rabbits. When I met her Amy had dogs & cats & rabbits all living together in a peaceful kingdom. But she talked about one day having a sanctuary where she could live in harmony with many different species. After Amy moved to Virginia and acquired her peaceful kingdom/ sanctuary we would talk about how to provide an enriched environment for her newly rescued guinea pigs, rats, mice, degus and recently gerbils. Amy’s focus was always on the animal, never on herself and so she may not have been widely known. But she had a major impact on the lives of many animals and on many humans.”
Sandi Ackerman, Best Little Rabbit, Rodent and Ferret House, Seattle, WA

Some of Amy’s articles include:

Saying Goodbye Every Day
Lops are Mellow and Other Dangerous Myths
Communication Gaps and Bridges
The Sad Truth about Rabbit Overpopulation
A Rabbit in the Classroom: What are They Really Teaching the Kids?

Donations in Amy’s memory can be made to:

Rikki’s Refuge in Orange, Virginia
Poplar Springs Sanctuary in Poolesville, Maryland
House Rabbit Society’s Amy Espie Memorial Fund

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