House Rabbit Society is a rabbit rescue organization. As much as we enjoy educating and sharing information through this publication, our primary purpose is saving lives. We do this through our fostering program by housing, rehabilitating, and finding new homes for abandoned rabbits. These rabbits are rescued from the streets or from death row at animal shelters. We save as many rabbits as we can accommodate with quality.
Providing quality care for multiple rabbits involves much more than stacking sterile cages in a corner and filling them with rabbits. Our fosterers have developed exemplary standards of living for rabbits in foster care.
It does require considerable ingenuity to provide multiple rabbits with 30 hours per week (minimum) safe running time, social activities, and mental stimulation–in addition to clean spacious indoor housing and medical attention. And all of this takes place within an environment friendly to visiting volunteers and adopters.
HRS rescuer-fosterers meet this challenge a number of ways among our chapters in 16 states. In acknowledgment of their accomplishments and resourcefulness, we would like to share with you how it is done. Future HRJ issues will cover fostering stories around the country. We begin with this one, an urban solution in an industrial area of Oakland, California, where two humans, 29 rabbits, 9 cats, 3 guinea pigs, 1 dog, and 2 birds share living space.
On the Move
Anyone who has tried to rent a residence knows how hard it is to convince a landlord that just one rabbit is OK. Imagine trying to rent with 29 rabbits! That’s exactly the situation HRS fosterer and education director, Margo DeMello and her husband, Tom Young, found themselves in last year. They had rescued most of the animals gradually during their stay in off-campus housing, while completing grad school at UC Davis. (Margo is a cultural anthropologist whose rabbit-fostering project has turned into a lifelong “study” of rabbit culture.)
As difficult as it is to find a new rental, it is equally difficult to vacate one–especially if the landlord insists on showing your house before you move out. Faced with this awkward situation, Margo and Tom took advantage of the fact that the rabbits had learned to live in one large group. They simply piled them into the back of their station wagon. She drove around with the rabbits for an hour, while he showed the house to the landlord and prospective tenants. Whew!
With the same fostering techniques (group housing), perseverance, and a little luck, Tom and Margo were able to find new housing: a three-level “live-work” space, known as a “loft,” halfway between their two employment locations. The multi-purpose, multi-use loft greatly enhances the roaming opportunities in a multi-animal household.
The downstairs “shop” space would serve well for any kind of animal shelter, but it is especially suitable for rabbits with cool concrete floors, an open expanse of running space, skylights, and a rollup door that allows for the unloading of hay bales right into the bunnies’ living room. What serves as a human living-room area (with the usual sofa, chairs, coffee table, and TV/stereo) is adjacent that of the rabbits. The bottom floor houses the healthy adoptables and “sanctuary” rabbits in one large area. The cage doors remain open, and the rabbits and guinea pigs can bed down where they please. A smaller space is dedicated to a quarantine area for incoming rabbits.
The mezzanine level includes a kitchen and dining area at one end, with a computer/office area at the other end; meandering cats; and some nifty cross-beams (for birds to perch) that extend out from the mezzanine at about 20 feet above the ground floor.
This is the level used for convalescent rabbits who need special attention. Because of proximity to the bathroom and the fact that no permanent rabbits live on this floor, it’s a good place for a sick rabbit who needs extra care and shouldn’t be near the others.
Up one more flight of stairs is the top of the loft, where the humans share sleep-space with Melinda, a foster rabbit who has become a permanent resident due to delicate health. Melinda has recently been joined by a new pal named Mouse.
Generally a foster home needs three divisions: 1) a quarantine area for incoming rabbits for the first two weeks until the health status can be evaluated, 2) a general area for healthy adoptable rabbits, and 3) an area for convalescent care–close to medicine cabinet, a sink or tub, electricity (for heating pad), and a number of other conveniences. An abundance of space makes it possible to have more than one of these divisions and take in more rabbits. Of course the thing that space, no matter how large, can’t provide is human energy to do all the hands-on care. That is something that comes directly from within the people who take on these projects.
We hope you’ve enjoyed your look inside an HRS foster home and will continue your support. If a local HRS chapter exists in your area, be generous with your physical and financial support. Your donations keep your local chapter going and tell our fosterers you believe in the work they do. Rescuer-fosterers are necessary as long as there are many more rabbits needing homes than there are caring humans to provide these homes.
House Rabbit Journal Volume III, Number 5, Summer 1995