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Bunny Buddies

Bunny Buddies
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photo: Larry Nixon/SoCal Portraits

As Easter approaches, we thought it would be a good idea to rerun this article on bunny rescuers

By Nina Malkin

Most folks associate Easter with egg hunts, baked ham and spring flowers. But Judith Pierce and Patricia Mulcahy cannot help but view the coming season with trepidation. Co-managers of the House Rabbit Society’s (www.rabbit.org) San Diego chapter, Judith and Patricia are all too aware of how hard the holiday is on their favorite furry creatures. “Easter bunnies are often taken from their mothers at a few weeks old, when they should still be nursing,” says Judith, 61. “A startling number die in a matter of days.”

Those that live may also face a tragic fate. Rabbits are the third most relinquished animals in the country—and too many people don’t even bother bringing the unwanted animals to a shelter. “By summertime, the dumping begins, with rabbits being dropped into vacant lots, golf courses—just thrown out the door and onto the street,” says Patricia, 64, pointing out that that domesticated rabbits have little chance of surviving in the wild.

One of their most heart-tugging cotton tales concerns a New Zealand White named Steve, abandoned in an outdoor cage after his owners lost their home. By the time neighbors discovered Steve weeks later, he was emaciated, dehydrated, riddled with parasites and suffering from huge, infected abscesses on all his feet. “He was this little bag of bones,” Judith recalls. “We nursed him round the clock for months, and although one leg did have to be amputated, he’s a happy healthy bunny now.” (To meet Steve, go here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vPnl46knMs.)

Hoppily Ever After

Rabbits reach sexual maturity between 12 and 16 weeks of age, and when those hormones kick in, so can aggressive behavior. But a spayed/neutered bunny makes a perfectly lovely pet. Clever, cuddly, easily trained to do their business in a litter box and, if you’re of the notion that rabbits “just sit there,” you’ve never seen one binky—a frisky, joyous run-jump-flip maneuver any skateboarder would deem gnarly (check out bunnies in binky mode here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZgsMCRxXnI). Kept indoors and fed a healthy diet, their life expectancy is about 13 years.

Judith and Patricia both heartily attest to the joys of bunny ownership. Judith got her first pet rabbit as a child, while Patricia discovered the species more recently. In 2003, her then-husband brought one home to keep their dog company. Since she had no hands-on experience, Patricia began volunteering at the SDHRS, where she not only learned a bunch about bunnies, she found a bestie.

“We just clicked,” recalls Judith, who’d been running the organization largely on her own when Patricia joined the board and really stepped up to the plate. “We’re like sisters,” Patricia agrees—and Judith adds, laughing, “We squabble like sisters!” While family members and longtime friends consider the two to be crazy rabbit ladies, they’ve got each other. Like rabbits, who mate for life, Judith and Patricia truly are a bonded pair who enjoy girls’ nights out and even sleepovers.

Not that they have tons of free time. The women, who enjoyed careers in everything from theatrical lighting design and sailboat captaining (Patricia) to PR and marketing and stints in the medical professions (Judith), devote some 40 hours a week to their volunteer mission. They handle day-to-day operations of the busy rescue and shelter, do outreach and education, conduct adoption events, train volunteers, liaison with veterinarians and drive all over Southern California with bunnies in their backseats.

A lot of work—but they wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s so rewarding to take in a rabbit who’d been injured, physically or emotionally, and help him learn to love and trust again,” says Judith. “The best part is to finally see him in his new home as cherished member of a family.” Patricia concurs, yet adds how much they get in return from the rabbits they help. “Even if I’m in a bad mood,” she says, “when I come to the shelter and see the bunnies, my heart always gets a lift.”

Keep rescuers like Patricia and Judith in a great mood this Easter and beyond: Remember that a rabbit, like any pet, is a commitment, not a toy. And if you are ready to open your heart and home to one, shun shoddy pet stores and others trying to make a buck on bunny season and think adoption first!

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An all-around wordsmith, Nina Malkin is a journalist, novelist, copywriter and memoirist. She’s also an avid collector of lovely things from eras past—read her musings at http://www.vintagevirna.blogspot.com/