Our national history was reported in the last issue, and our chapter histories continue to be told. In looking back, we not only extol our accomplishments but also show what modest beginnings set them in motion. Today’s bunny champions may work in a multi-organizational effort to get a group of bunnies to safety, as our feature story demonstrates, or as individuals rescuing a single rabbit at a time-the way that nearly every HRS chapter originated.
Upstate New York: The Rabbit Resource
By Davida Kobler
I started educating and rescuing on my own in 1982. At that time there was precious little accurate bunny-care information, and pet stores as well as department stores (!) here sold rabbits. Eventually I met two others interested in caring for abandoned rabbits, and in 1988 we formally began with Rabbit Rescue. Because no area shelters accepted rabbits, people typically brought their unwanted rabbits to the zoo, where they wound up as snake food. Fortunately one of our rescuers worked at the zoo, so we were able to get them out of that situation.
In 1991, the SPCA moved to a bigger building with new management. They accepted our proposal to move our rescue operations there. We provided educational resources, triage/rescue, and financial support for the rabbit-care program. We grew from 3 bunnies to space for 24 over the next 10 years. For many years I taught classes there, for the staff and public.
At first, New York City and upstate New York were part of one Chapter. Laura George and Mary Cotter created a much-needed New York City Chapter. Later in the 90s, Kristen Strobel came on board in Buffalo. While Kris laid the foundation for spay/ neuter and a fostering program at Erie County, it wasn’t until Craig Abelson became active that the SPCA fostering program there really got going. The western New York Educators have forged an excellent working relationship with their local shelter, an essential element for the HRS-based fostering program they are developing.
We officially became a Chapter in 2005. We chose the name THE (Thrennion’s Hoppy Endings) Rabbit Resource, after my wonderful bun Threnny. Craig Abelson became an Educator in 2007, as did Meg Brown in Albany area, and Dr. Kim Kraebel in Cortland/Ithaca. Our volunteers assist shelters in Hyde Park, Catskill, Albany area, Herkimer/Utica/Rome, Syracuse, Auburn, Cortland, Ithaca, Rochester, and Buffalo.
Northern Ohio – Buckeye HRS
By Herta Rodina
Ten… nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one… and the Buckeye HRS hops into its second decade of service! Even those of us involved in our chapter’s inception can hardly believe we’ve completed ten years of fostering homeless rabbits and educating the public on house rabbit care.
Officially founded in August 1997 by Kristi Cole, Libby Armstrong, and Herta Rodina, and financed entirely from personal funds, we began with three volunteers and a membership list of eleven individuals. We sure have grown. We now have close to twenty volunteers spread across the state. This edition of Harelines, our 30th, has been mailed to just under 300 addresses.
Most importantly, to date we’ve rescued 752 rabbits! Who knows what hardships and fears these sweet and gentle creatures would have faced if no one had been able to step in and help. Each rescue comes with a story, of course; sometimes we know it, sometimes we can only guess. Some bunnies have been dumped anonymously after-hours at animal shelters, which makes them the lucky ones compared to those abandoned in the woods or a park or even a dumpster. Others have been seized by authorities from situations of neglect or rescued by Good Samaritans from parking lots and schoolyards. A handful of abused fosters have even had their day in court.
We know all too well that we haven’t been able to help all those who have needed it; there are simply too many homeless rabbits, and while our organization has grown, volunteers, resources and time are limited. Saying “no” is one of the most difficult situations volunteers face. We all hope for a day when we won’t be needed anymore. In the meantime, with the support, loyalty and amazing generosity of our members, we will continue our fostering and education mission, one rabbit and one decade at a time.
Rocky Mountain Area – Colorado HRS
By Nancy LaRoche
The small cage occupied by a seven-year-old little bun was pristine, but Kirby had been there for 48 hours. She was in psychological shock at the Boulder Humane Society, and hadn’t eaten, drunk, urinated, or passed droppings since her arrival. As their volunteer rabbit “expert” (I knew a little bit about rabbits which was a little bit more than anyone else there did), I was allowed to foster her in an attempt to save her life.
Kirby allowed herself to be fed, and recovered beautifully. But… she wouldn’t eat on her own. I called Marinell Harriman for help. This was 1991, before email was the common mode of communication.
We talked for several hours. I tried her suggestions, and a couple of weeks later, called to give her an update. A few weeks after that, I called to tell her that Kirby was eating on her own, and to thank her for her help.
“Why don’t you become a chapter?” she asked. That sounded like fun, so I agreed. I told my life-partner, Earl, that we would probably never see more than 12 rabbits at any given time. We built spaces for 15.
I sent a letter to all the veterinarians in the Denver phone book, telling them about our infant chapter. Word spread. Volunteers appeared. Other shelters began asking us to take their rabbits. The 15 planned spaces were quickly occupied, and more crates were set up nearby. My little hobby exploded into a full-time job and then some. But I already had a full-time job! I clumsily juggled both, and caught a few hours of sleep when I could.
In 1998, I was able to take early retirement from my paying job and began going through piles of boxes, many marked, “Do immediately!” Some dated back to 1991. With the help of a dedicated volunteer, we started to get organized.
Meanwhile, a disagreeable neighbor created havoc for us, reporting us for having more than the city’s limit of four animals per residence. Fosterers took every rabbit. We were inspected, and not a rabbit was found. Then they all came back. Only now, they could no longer have their marvelous weekends romping outside while we cleaned their crates. The neighbor couldn’t prove that we had more than four animals in residence as long as he never saw them, but for roughly ten years, he did everything he could to make life miserable.
In 2001, I was able to buy the “perfect” property, and the chapter moved to it. Besides a house and a barn, there was a building with room for a shop, an office, storage space, and 130 or so rabbits!
But oh! What a bumpy ride it’s been! We lost key volunteers, but good came of it. Three became veterinarians, and others became active in local chapters in their new locations. One board of directors fell apart. Another was established. Personalities clashed. The mantra “We’re all here to help the rabbits” kept these clashes from destroying the chapter.
Veterinarians came and went. Some knew nearly nothing about rabbits. Others were on the cutting edge at that time. Following the all-rabbit vet conference that National HRS held in 1997, many veterinarians began learning about rabbits. Today, we have two incredibly knowledgeable vets: Jerry LaBonde, 40 minutes away, and Bill Guerrera who practices right here in Broomfield! We have two sanctuaries and satellites in Fort Collins, Greeley, and Grand Junction. Three co-managers oversee some hundred or so volunteers. Key people oversee various departments, reporting to the co-managers.
What miracle holds all these diverse people together? What keeps everything from falling apart when two people have honest differences of opinion, or personalities clash? The furry, wiggly-nosed little beasties we all love-our homeless bunnies whose fate depends entirely on us. These sweet creatures are the miracle that has enabled us to work together for their good.
Southern California – San Diego HRS
By Michelle Wilhelm
San Diego House Rabbit Society got its start in the early 90s. What began as one volunteer soon turned into two, then three- today we have 80 active volunteers and a membership base of about 600! Early on, Libby Donovan (who would become the first chapter manager) received calls about rabbits needing help from the South County Animal Shelter in Bonita. She responded by taking in those needy rabbits. Volunteer Lynn Little soon found out about Libby and the rabbits, and also wanted to help. Lynn drove over an hour to Libby’s house each week to help clean cages and feed rabbits. For me, I desperately needed more information about a bunny I had just taken in. Once I found out about all the great rabbit-care information available through HRS, I decided to help, too. Each person who became involved did so for a similar reason- we wanted to make life better for the rabbits in our community.
The first few years were tough. We needed to get the word out about rabbits, the House Rabbit Society specifically, and the work we wanted to do. We needed to develop our media contacts, work out arrangements with local veterinarians, raise funds and grow our volunteer list… all this before the advent of e-mail. The rabbits kept coming on their own-no encouragement was needed there! The animal community in San Diego is a tightly knit group, and word spread fast. As our contacts grew, we received airtime on TV and radio, new volunteers contacted us, and veterinarians wanted to help. Many of those early contacts are still with us today.
In 1993 we sent out our first newsletter. We were so excited to produce a 6-page newsletter! Today, San Diego’s quarterly newsletter is more than double that in size and chock-full of great information, stories, and reports on our efforts in the community.
In 1995, we were granted official Chapter status. This meant we could get our own nonprofit mailing permit, collect donations, and make payments locally. We were truly part of a larger movement to raise awareness about rabbits as indoor companions. We developed one of the chapter’s largest fundraising efforts still in effect today-boxed hay! San Diego HRS distributes hundreds of boxes of hay each month, for fundraising purposes and to provide a good mix of hay to our clients. Many volunteers from all around the county are involved in this monumental hay-packing effort. Proceeds from the sale of boxed hay allow us to provide spay/neuter and expert veterinary care for hundreds of foster and shelter rabbits each year.
In September 1992 we held our first big fundraiser, Bunnyfest, at a small winery in North County. We had just a couple of vendors, and about 25 people showed up. Today, Bunnyfest has grown to an event like none other, with hundreds of people attending each year. Rabbits and their people spend the day with like-minded folk, purchase supplies, bid on auction items, and eat delicious vegetarian food at the Cottontail Cafe. Bunnyfest has now moved to Heritage Park in Old Town to accommodate the large crowd. Each year, Bunnyfest grows and grows; it now raises thousands of dollars yearly for San Diego HRS’ rescue efforts. In 2000 we opened the HRS Bunny Supply Store, where we sell safe, fun, and healthy bunny products and hold Adoption Days. The store has moved several times over the years and is currently in the Kearny Mesa area.
Hundreds of hay boxes are distributed each month. From left to right: Tina Otis, Patti Scott, Johnny Bowen, Rita Otero, Karen Gurneck (with sunglasses), Amy Spintman, Carole Schmerbauch, and Marie Milliner. This time-tested fundraiser also insures availability of a quality hay mix for bunnies, countywide. Proceeds support the San Diego chapter’s spay/neuter program.
By Marinell Harriman
House Rabbit Journal Winter 2009: Volume V, Number 4