Navigating Social Work and Bunny Advocacy: Sky’s Inspirational Insight During Social Work Awareness Month with Toastie

Do you mind sharing a brief introduction, including Your background in social work and Bunny Advocacy as a bunny parent?

My name is Sky, and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area with my bunny, Toastie. Toastie and I are active on social media, where we post the good, the bad, and the ugly of owning a rabbit. We also share our adventures in volunteering at our local animal shelter, Oakland Animal Services.

I am pursuing my Master of Social Work with a concentration in Mental Health & Trauma. I am also interning with Not One More Vet, a veterinary social work nonprofit whose goal is to elevate the status of mental well-being within the field. Not One More Vet provides services to veterinary clinics, shelter medicine teams, veterinary students, as well as individuals.

Prior to being at Not One More Vet, I was at the City of Hope, which is a comprehensive cancer center located in Southern California. I was practicing medical oncology social work and providing support to individuals either going through treatment or navigating end-of-life care.

I graduate later this year, and my hope is to combine these two positions. I would love to work in tandem with veterinary clinics as a social worker, providing wraparound and integrative care services to patients. I want to support pets and their owners as they navigate difficult and potentially terminal diagnoses. I also want to provide grief counseling in both one-on-one and group capacities.

Dual Roles: Can you describe how your role as a social worker intersects with your passion for rabbits and their welfare?

When people think of social work, they do not often think of animal welfare. They may understand that social workers support and advocate for vulnerable populations but may not consider animals fitting into this category. However, animals are arguably the most vulnerable population, as they quite literally cannot speak for themselves.

Empathy and Care: In what ways has being a bunny parent enriched your understanding of empathy and care in your social work practice? How have you grown in your understanding of rabbits’ needs?

There is so much to learn from non-human animals, and it is difficult to pinpoint just one or two. The first thing that comes to mind is that “bad” behavior is not necessarily an indication of a bad animal. When you are working with someone exhibiting poor behavior, it is more likely that their behavior reflects something more. It is important to meet them with curiosity and care, as opposed to judgment or punishment.

Advocacy Skills: How Has Social Work and Bunny Advocacy advocacy developed Your Skills in social work and efforts to promote rabbit welfare?

When I first created my Instagram account, in 2021, it did not take very long for me to realize how toxic the bunny side of Instagram can be. There are so many positive things about bunny Instagram, but there is also a lot of judgment. Complete strangers have picked me apart for many things, including having a single bunny. People often assume that what they see on Instagram is the full story. Therefore, when people only see one bunny being featured, they do not consider that there are barriers that prevent bonding. Another assumption that people have made is that if I have a single rabbit, I must not even recognize the value of having a bonded pair or group. I have owned a bonded pair, and been witness to the benefits of it, so this is far from the truth.

Toastie Close Up, picture captured by bunn-mom Sky

Because of my experience and my background in social work, I find this to be extremely harmful. A huge part of social work is withholding judgment and being culturally responsive. People of different cultures will have different practices and views, but that does not necessarily mean that one group is “right” while the other is “wrong.”

A similar concept can be applied to the topic of rabbit welfare, specifically on social media. People in different parts of the world will have different rabbit welfare practices and likely disagree. However, that does not mean that we can tear each other apart over every little thing. The more likely case is that sharing experience and knowledge will benefit all parties.

For example, someone once commented on one of my posts, saying I was “abusive” for having an exclusively indoor rabbit. At the time, I remember feeling hurt and angry that someone could even suggest this. In the United States, it is highly recommended to keep rabbits exclusively indoors, to decrease the risk of RHDV and protect them from predators. It took some reflection to realize that letting rabbits outside to play or even housing rabbits outdoors is a very normal practice in other parts of the world, in particular parts of the UK. This person was going off of what is familiar to them, and ignorance about rabbit welfare practices in other locations.

When people feel passionate about something, it is easy to become fiery and judgmental, which I completely understand. Most of us have been there, including me. However, instead of jumping to judgment, I would like to challenge people to get curious and see if they are open to an alternate perspective.

Community Impact: Can you share an instance where your Experience in Social Work and rabbit advocacy positively changed your community’s perception or treatment of them?

One of the main things I post about on my page is my adventures in volunteering. I hope that these posts are shifting the way that people think about adopting vs. shopping, as well as the animals themselves. Many shelters receive backlash for euthanizing animals, which is a narrative that I am trying to help change. If shelters had the resources to save all the animals, they would. But the reality is that shelters often lack the funding and space to do so, which is not their fault. In other words, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game”.

There is also a very damaging perception of rescued animals. I constantly hear that people do not want to adopt rescue rabbits because they want a certain breed and age or they worry that the rabbit will be poorly socialized. As someone who volunteers with these bunnies, we definitely have a wider variety than most people think.

Balancing Act: What challenges do you face balancing your professional responsibilities with your advocacy for rabbits, and how do you manage them?

Something that helps me to maintain balance is to keep my professional responsibilities and my animal welfare advocacy relatively separate. My position in social work feels like a career, whereas animal welfare advocacy feels like a passion. This has also aided in decreasing burnout because the thing I love to do has not become something I feel obligated to do.

Fulfilling Moments: Could you share an enriching experience that ties together your work as a social worker and your love for rabbits?

Something that always feels rewarding is when someone tells me that it was because of the advice I gave them that they were able to keep their rabbit. People reach out to me with questions about rabbit care, and I help them to the best of my ability and knowledge. People have also disclosed to me that they are struggling financially and asked about low-cost resources, whether that be veterinary care or supplies. Although they are few and far between, there are definitely resources for this. Even if I am not familiar with the area that they live in, I do my best to research and connect them with local resources. This idea of meeting people where they are and providing them with the support needed to be successful is also crucial to social work.

Misconceptions: What are common misconceptions about rabbits as pets that you encounter, and how do you address them?

One of the biggest misconceptions is that rabbits are low-maintenance, inexpensive pets. For people who own rabbits, they understand that this narrative is both antiquated and far from the truth. To address these misconceptions, I try my best to educate people about rabbits and how complex they can be.

Educating Others: How do you use your platform to educate others about rabbits’ needs and proper care?

When educating others about rabbits’ needs and proper care, our primary platform is Instagram. In our posts, we cover a wide variety of topics, such as diet, grooming, and potential health issues. In addition to being fun and creative, social media has become a very effective tool in providing education, as we can reach a significantly larger audience than in-person opportunities.

I am also able to educate others through my role as a rabbit volunteer at Oakland Animal Services. Part of my job is meeting potential adopters and facilitating adoption counseling sessions. Many experienced rabbit owners who come through really understand the ins and outs of rabbit care. However, there are also many first-time rabbit owners, and I am able to chat with them about best practices and ideal rabbit care.

Personal Connection: Do you find inspiration between social work and bunny advocacy?

Something that inspires me about social work and animal advocacy is the strength of numbers. I am also constantly surprised at how supportive and generous people can be within these communities.

Words of Wisdom: What advice would you give fellow social workers considering adopting a rabbit or advocating for animal welfare?

For social workers who would like to advocate for animal welfare, I would encourage them to go for it. Social workers operate at micro, mezzo, and macro levels, so there are ample opportunities for people of all interests. Social workers can become more involved in animal welfare by working at a mezzo level and providing services for the community. Social workers can also work at a macro level and lobby for policies and laws that will help protect animals on a large scale—for example, pushing for stricter policies regarding the meat industry, animal testing, the exploitation of animals in entertainment, etc.

There are also changes to be made in the welfare system that will trickle down and positively affect the animal welfare system. Currently, there is a very serious housing and unemployment crisis, and there are large numbers of people experiencing poverty. This has resulted in many people being unable to care for their pets, ultimately affecting the animal welfare system.

Closing Thoughts: Any final thoughts on the importance of compassion in both social work and animal advocacy?

Both social work and animal advocacy require a great deal of compassion. With compassion, there may be compassion fatigue or burnout. In order to help prevent this, it is imperative to cultivate strong support systems. These are family members, friends, or colleagues who you can lean on or bounce ideas off of. I am also a huge advocate for implementing regular self-care.

Call to Action: What words of encouragement might you like to share with readers about social workers’ role and reasons to consider supporting rabbit welfare initiatives?

When it comes to change-making, no action is too small. People have shared with me that they have a strong love of animals and a strong desire to help, but they are still trying to figure out how to help. People seem discouraged and overwhelmed, thinking the only way to help is through adoption, fostering, volunteering, or donating. I have learned from being active on social media and volunteering that there are so many ways of helping aside from those few things. On social media, something that makes a huge difference is following shelters and rescues and interacting with their posts. Liking, commenting, and sharing are all things that help boost posts and increase audience and reach. The same thing is true with animal shelters and rescues. Actions that may seem minor or insignificant can have a massive impact. At Oakland Animal Services, there are folx who host bake sales, and lemonade stands, donate veggies, and make homemade toys. All of these factors end up having a massive impact on the bunnies.

  • Marina Mendenhall-Valente

    As Marketing & Communications Manager for SaveABunny, Marina leverages her experiences in product marketing and program-portfolio-management across top financial services and animal healthcare companies to support rabbits in need. Her insights into the complexities of rabbit welfare fuel her commitment to foster change by raising awareness, education, and partnership opportunities. Marina's connection to the cause is driven by her role as a devoted bunny mom to three.

    View all posts
Scroll to Top