Robin Rysavy and her husband, John Hawkins, have donated their time, energy and 3 story home to housing homeless rabbits in Kansas City, Missouri. Robin runs a HRS chapter, and along with other responsibilities, must worry about the local weather. Her experiences are a reminder that planning, flexibility and common sense apply equally well to natural disaster as to the disaster of abandoned rabbits. – Holly O’Meara
As I came over the baby gate in the kitchen with a bowl full of broccoli, apple slices and carrots, I was mobbed by several wiggly noses. Then, as quickly as they jumped up to greet me, they stopped begging and began to act nervous.
Outside the wind, which had been howling, became calm. There was a noise like a freight train and the bunnies scurried behind the couch. My husband raced to close the few windows we’d left open for ventilation. We were in the middle of a severe storm. Sixty was more bunnies than I usually fostered, and there was no way I could get them all to the basement. I opted to stay upstairs and try to keep everyone calm by offering them veggies. After a few minutes, the storm abated and the bunnies relaxed.
We sustained no damage from the “microburst,” which flattened many of our neighbor’s houses. But we also weren’t finished with tornado season, which in the midwest extends from March through June.
About a week later, my husband, John, and I were returning from a late night trip to the grocery store to get–you guessed it–apples, carrots, broccoli and leafy greens. As we drove home, lightning kept the sky looking like it was 10 a.m. instead of 10 pm. We hurried to beat the storm, and as we pulled into our drive, John said, “I’ll get the food; you’d better start moving the bunnies and Brandy (woof woof) to the basement.”
We turned on the TV to get a weather update. There was a tornado on the ground about 30 miles west of us, headed our way. As John stashed the veggies in the refrigerator (this time the buns would have to wait), I began racing upstairs to grab whoever hopped up to me. I started with the top floor first, taking Megan and Sugar to an empty cage in the basement. Next came Brently, Patty and Buttons, and then I moved Wally to a smaller cage so I could put my bonded four-some, Peaches, Pumpkin, Peter and Scooter in Wally’s 4´ X 4´ run. Soon John joined me in carrying Oreo and Hershey to their awaiting cage, and next we scooped up Snoopy, who found a temporary home in a large carrier. Fuzzy, Lady, Holly and Little Bit followed, each in their own individual cages or carriers. Next Spice, complete with her own nighttime cage because she likes to nibble the carpet at 4 am. Then I grabbed Ashley, my little paralyzed girl who shares a room with Spice, and Winston and Scarlet,
our kitchen bunnies who seemed nervous at being left behind.
In what took 15 minutes but seemed like a lifetime, we had everyone–41 bunnies, 1 dog and 2 humans–in the basement. Since 23 had already been moved to their night quarters in the basement, the job was primarily to rearrange their areas so the upstairs bunnies could be accommodated.
We had bunnies in cages stacked 3 high; we had bunnies in carriers; bunnies running around in playpens; and bunnies just plain running around.
But our work wasn’t finished.
John and I figured if a tornado did hit our house, most likely the water would be cut off. We began filling every water bottle available until everyone had his or her own bottle or crock full of fresh water. Then we filled jugs so there would be plenty to spare. The food was already in the basement, as was most of the bunny medicine I keep on hand. I did dash upstairs to grab a handful of old towels and a couple of flashlights, and then returned to sit on the floor with Benjamin, a neutered 14-lb. male, who was enjoying “inspecting” the girls from upstairs.
After an hour or so, we were given the “all clear” and began the process of returning every bun to his/her room. And finally…we got to the evening salad.
This was not the first time we’d thought about disaster planning. About eight years ago, prior to being involved with bunny rescue, we “only” had nine house bunnies. One of my piano student’s parents remarked jokingly if we ever did have a tornado and had to get all the bunnies to the basement, I’d never notice the storm because I’d be too busy breaking up bunny fights. (Some but not all of the 9 got along. In fact, the night we had 41 in the basement, there was no fighting. The bunnies were at first restless, then relaxed after reaching shelter.) This remark made me realize I needed to do some preparation, and I bought some used 30x 36 stacking cages to put in the basement.
The cages sat empty, until I began to get calls to rescue abandoned rabbits. As the basement cages filled up, I became concerned about losing my emergency housing. Then the only other person fostering in my area moved to Alabama, and I took in her rabbits. The number of foster rabbits grew from 35 to 70 overnight. I knew we couldn’t get that many bunnies in the basement.
Luckily we were able to advertise, screen, and find good homes for the extra rabbits, bringing down our foster count to a manageable number. I am grateful that the first microburst did not hit us directly. I am grateful that the second time the tornado approached slowly (giving us 20 instead of the usual 2-3 minutes lead time). I am grateful that there was enough room in the basement for all the bunnies who were living with us at the time.
The tornado season is over until next year. It is nice to know that 1) we can do it, 2) each bunny had a fairly comfortable temporary home complete with food and water, and 3) it can be done in a short amount of time. *
House Rabbit Journal Volume III, Number 8, Summer 1996
Editor’s note: As Kay Leiker notes in “Emergency Preparedness,” HRJ v.II, no.4, we recommend buying sturdy carriers to prepare for evacuation of your rabbits. Natural disasters and fires can occur anywhere.