Film Review: Rabbit Fever

profile of rabbit under chair

Coming into watching the film Rabbit Fever, I had very little foreknowledge of what the movie was about. I knew it had to do with rabbit shows, which I knew almost nothing about. Of course I have heard of dog & cat shows, which I find distasteful, but at least the animals seem to be fairly well cared for.

As I walked into the tiny theater, I was greeted by gleeful little girls in bunny ears handing me more bunny ears and welcoming me. There were rabbit decorations everywhere and I was immediately excited thinking to myself, oh! Rabbit people! MY people!

Excitement built as I waited in my seat for the film to roll, but before it started there were some brief announcements and the producer herself got up to speak. Then there was a contest with quiz questions about rabbit health, anatomy and so on. I noticed the questions were geared mainly towards breeders.

As the film opens we are introduced to the concept of “Rabbit Royalty”: young people that compete in an annual contest to become “kings”, “queens”, “dukes”, duchesses”, lords” & ladies”, in an organization known as ARBA: The American Rabbit Breeding Association. The competition involves testing their knowledge of rabbit breeds, health, anatomy, as well as their goals in furthering their future careers in ARBA, as veterinarians, breeders, teachers, etc.

As we are introduced at length to each competitor in the ARBA competition, the rabbits themselves are treated as secondary items in the background. During the days-long indoor competition, they are kept in tiny metal cages barely large enough to accommodate their bodies, with almost no room to move around at all. All the floors are metal grids. At “home”, their young caretakers house them in scarcely larger cages, mostly outdoors, exposed to the elements of nature.

It was a reoccurring sight to see these teens walking down rows of rabbit cages “caring for” the rabbits by giving them their once or twice daily food & water. They receive little to no human interaction. They are not bonded with each other, and since they are to be “bred” and are not fixed, they are kept separated until time to mate. Brief mention is made of their personalities, but it is treated as a novelty for human entertainment rather than indication of intelligence, soul, or emotional value. I could simply look into the eyes and faces of these rabbits and my heart broke inside my chest at the loneliness and resignation.

The film introduced an adult breeder named Joe Kim. He picked up one rabbit by his ears and carried him upside down. I can imagine how terrifying this was for the poor rabbit and honestly it is amazing that he did not break his back doing this to him. Someone with years of experience handling rabbits should know better than this. Joe’s philosophy is that rabbits are serve no purpose other than for entertainment. He joked, laughing heartily, about making one of his male rabbits breed so much his penis became very sore and injured. He referred to one rabbit whose features were not specifically “perfect” to her breed, as, “flawed”. The way one might speak of an object, a cracked china bowl or a stained cashmere sweater.

They introduced several breeders. One was a millionaire banker turned rabbit breeder with a couple hundred rabbits. Another named Paula breeds Angora rabbits for their wool, and I do not object to that, except they are kept in wire cages with metal floors, which of course cause sore hocks on delicate soft rabbit feet. Another one talked about how some of the rabbits are sold for meat. My bun Luke was considered an imperfect Harlequin Rabbit because of his markings. I love him more than anything in the world. The film segued back to the competition and to the ASBRA King competitors. As the guys looked over the rabbits and were judged on how they evaluated the rabbits, one remarked that they have high expectations of the rabbits. Another said casually, picking the bunny up and setting him back down, “This one is no good.”

One competitor summed his experience up this way: There is only one reason to have a rabbit. To win at a show or to breed a winner. The rabbits are kept in shoebox-sized metal cages with no room at all to move or turn around for hours and hours during this competition, in an enormous, loud, noisy, packed, indoor arena full of hundreds possibly over a thousand people, and a recorded 21,000 rabbits. They are picked up, manhandled roughly, examined, (“hoe to toe” judging) and shoved back into their cages dozens of times by dozens of people over the course of the day. For those of us that know rabbits…any single of these elements is unthinkably traumatic, but all together in one or many days is beyond my mind.

On one young lady’s face you could see it was bothering even her as she remarked, “…this is a lot to ask of these rabbits, it’s a lot to ask of any rabbit…”

There was only one moment in this film where I was not crying, which was when they showed a male rabbit having an orgasm: He did his lil humpity hump and then flipped backwards in the air. That made me laugh just because it was so cute, and he was happy for a second anyway, sweet little boy.

The theater was filled with 4H folks, breeders, & show people. Everyone laughed and cheered through the entire film, while I sat there shaking my head and sobbing through the whole thing. I don’t know if anyone thought I was crazy or not. I was nearly sick with grief and could hardly even stay to the end. It is hard to explain for me how the film was, but it was so opposite of everything I believe in.

After the movie there was an intermission and the director Amy Do was to take questions for the crowd. Knowing how outnumbered I was and over emotional I was I could not stay. I wish I were a better stronger person to ask her questions but I could not. And I do not know what good it would have done anyway.

For me this film was as traumatic as a horror film. It is so disturbing, so alarming and what is worse is this is a segment of the country seen as wholesome and positive for young people.

by Andrea LaRock