It was near the end of the winter of 2011 when our quiet and uneventful life as a family was about to change for the next eight months. I was standing at the kitchen sink one morning doing up some dishes when I noticed something unusual in our backyard. Something was sitting under the bird feeder eating the seed that had been scattered on the white snowy ground. It was rather difficult to make out because it was white with small, uneven black spotted markings and I didn't have my glasses on. After a good long, squinty look, I shouted to my husband and son, "Hey, look out the window. It's a rabbit!"
Now, seeing a rabbit in our backyard wasn't a special occurrence. In fact, that past summer I had been fighting off the wild rabbits right and left from eating the tasty morsels that I had planted in my flower and veggie garden. It was a fight I wasn't going to win. But this was an exceptional sighting -- it was a domesticated rabbit. While I was excited to see it, I almost immediately was saddened to realize that someone must have let it go. For whatever reason the little rabbit found itself on its own, I was glad that it was getting some kind of nourishment at the very least.
In the days following, two more domesticated rabbits found their way to our bird food buffet -- an orange mini lop, a mini rex and a black mystery breed. When I discovered this, I talked with my husband and son and we decided we would live trap them and take them in; giving them the shelter and food they desperately needed. Before too long, our garage was a safe haven to four beautiful rabbits. The original black and white rabbit was a rex, which my son promptly named "Bandit" because of the black eye circles. The orange mini lop we found out had been named "Glorya" (more on that later on), the mini rex we called "Rexamillion," and the mystery breed I dubbed "Raggety Ann" because she was a raggety looking thing and had an attitude to beat the band!
We borrowed cages and started trying to help the rabbits feel at home and safe. It took a couple of weeks before we were able to successfully handle the rabbits, not to mention just putting our hands into the cage to retrieve their food dishes. Glorya recoiled in fear -- eyes wide as saucers, ears pulled forward hiding her face; Raggety Ann came at my hand scratching and biting. Bandit and Rexamillion were very accommodating and didn't flinch as we filled their water and food dishes -- it was pretty obvious that someone in the neighborhood had just let these rabbits go. Having said so, this brings me to our having learned of Glorya's name.
We found out thru the proverbial grapevine that the person who had let Glorya go knew she had been captured and was being cared for by us. That individual had stated that they wanted Glorya returned. When I learned of this I flat out said that I would not return her. Whomever the owner was, and I didn't know nor want to know who they were, I believe had relinquished any rights they had to Glorya when they released her. It amazed me that people don't know that domesticated rabbits cannot and do not survive in the "wild?" They are not wild creatures. I decided then that I would be a vocal advocate in passing this knowledge on wherever I went.
You see, we already had a few rabbits of our own that were our beloved pets. "Scooter," an American Chinchilla purchased at our local flea market and my son's best friend; "Clover," a gorgeous, broken mini lop and three-time grand champion show rabbit rescued from being euthanized; and "Gidgit," a Holland Lop that my son was given as a gift from our dear friends for use in his showmanship in 4H. We had very strong feelings about domesticated rabbits being released by people who couldn't or didn't want to care for them any longer. And they weren't nice feelings.
It wasn't long after we had the "Gang of Four," as I called them, all settled in their cages when our fifth orphaned rescue rabbit was brought to us by a neighbor who had been able to hand capture it. We happily added "Cocoa" to the bunch. So now we had the "Gang of Five." Within a couple of days we decided that we would do what we could to rehabilitate and re-socialize these beautiful bunnies and then find new homes for them.
After a short time had passed and we were more and more successful in feeding and tending to the rabbits' needs, we began to try to handle them in order to assess any health issues. We found all of them in need of flea treatments. Cocoa was our only bunny that needed vet services to rid her of a half-dozen ticks. One, unfortunately, abscessed but we were able to take care of her wound -- she was an exemplary patient. All were given flea treatments and before long, "everybun" was doing well and even appeared content. We were not in a position to spay or neuter any of these rabbits -- it is very costly when you try to do it on your own. I looked into getting some help with a few dedicated rabbit rescues, but none of them were able. Vets would work with me if I had a charity designation, 501(c)3, which I didn't. Being the wife of an Air Force soldier with a 10-year-old son, we didn't have a whole lot of discretionary income to ear mark for neuterings.
We decided that we would talk with anyone who was interested in adopting the Gang of Five and determine if they really knew what it took to take care of a rabbit as a pet. I must say we were very successful, as 80% of those who adopted the bunnies were already "rabbit people" and dedicated to taking care of and loving them. The remaining 20%? Well, that's a story in itself. We had one bunny we just couldn't find a home for and I was getting very concerned.
Rexamillion was the first to find his forever home; he was going to be a pet and to serve as a companion to a little boy who was learning showmanship in 4H. Bandit was next, having found a woman who fell in love with him at first sight! Glorya and Cocoa, both mini lops, went with their new person together. That left Raggety Ann, who usually got more than a second look because she was small like a Lionhead and Jersey Woolly, which is what we guessed her mix to be. However, when I explained she was a rescued rabbit and that she was prone to bite and fight with her front feet, people were no longer interested in her.
I spent many days and lots of time trying to work with Raggety Ann. It took a while, but I finally was able to hold the little stinker for up to 20mins. I even was able to trim her wicked nails and comb her motley mane! But, weekend after weekend, rabbit show after rabbit show, little Raggety Ann was passed over. I was beginning to be concerned until the last rabbit show we attended that year and the American Veteran that paid her more than a second glance.
The Vietnam Vet wasn't homeless -- he and his wife lived in their trailer/truck. He was walking around the show because he loved bunnies and was walking a bunny with him on a leash! His rabbit was a Lionhead and he seemed to enjoy himself, walking around and sniffing the rabbits in their transport cages. The vet took a long look at Raggety Ann -- he read the small sign I had printed that described her behaviour. He and I chatted for quite a while about the irresponsibility of people and their pets. He told me his little Lionhead was neutered. He tried to pick up Raggety Ann, but she was true to my description of her and growled and lashed out at the vet. "Oh my," he said. "Somebody needs a special someone to take care of that behaviour."
Later that afternoon, while the second show was finishing up, the vet brought his wife around to have a look at Raggety Ann. She smiled and said to me, "My husband said I just HAVE to look at this bunny." She looked at Raggety Ann in her cage then asked if she could hold her. "Are you sure?" I asked. "She can scratch pretty good and gives a good pinch." She chuckled and said that she was sure. Since Raggety Ann was used to me, I was able to pick her out of the transport cage and hold her without incident. I handed the little black bunny to this woman and much to my surprise ... Raggety Ann didn't flinch. She didn't struggle in her arms; she didn't scratch or try to bite. She seemed completely content to be held. I've got to say it surprised the heck out of me!
The woman sat on her walker chair holding Raggety Ann for about an hour's time -- that silly bunny fell asleep in her arms. While Raggety Ann was dozing, the woman and I spoke of her illness (cancer) and how she was in remission, but needed to stay local to continue her treatments at the hospital. She revealed that she and her husband had lost their home, which is why they were living in their camper. They were hoping that would change soon, when her veteran husband started receiving his vet benefits that were so long in coming to them. It wasn't too long before the vet joined us and asked his wife, "So, what do you think?" My eyes enlarged when I realized he was asking her if she wanted Raggety Ann. "Oh, I don't know. We don't need another pet. We just came here to look." she said. There was a silence that seemed to linger for forever until she said, "Sometimes God puts these little creatures in your path for a reason. They need help or love. I'll take her." Tears came to my eyes as I smiled and said, "How wonderful!" I gave them some paperwork I had collected regarding the care and handling of rabbits and some food for the transition. Raggety Ann had finally found her people ... her forever home. I gave thanks to God and learned that all things and timing happens the way it happens as God plans it. And he had a plan.
About an hour later the vet returned and spoke with me privately off to the side. "Thank you," he said. "That little bunny is exactly what my wife needs what with all her sicknesses. Her cancer's not good and this little bunny has brightened the light in her face. Thank you." He had tears in his eyes and his voice cracked. I was shocked and gobsmacked. I didn't know what to say. I must have said something coherent, but my mind and heart were racing thinking about how that little bunny was most definitely meant for this vet's wife. I had spent a great deal of time trying to get Raggety Ann listed on the pet dot coms to no avail; calling larger rescues and asking them to take on Raggety Ann. The larger rescues said hands-down, "No." I had even offered to make a donation, but the answer was the same. That's why I was getting concerned, but I knew then that God had tagged Raggety Ann and the vet's wife for each other. (I love this story!)
Some time passed and in the winter of 2012 a neighbor contacted me and asked if I could live trap a rabbit he had in his backyard that was giving him the fits. I set the trap and in a day we had "Sophia." Sophia was very timid and shy. She would squeeze herself back into the corner of her cage whenever we fed and changed her water. I gave her a few days and then pulled her out to assess her condition. She seemed to be in great shape with the exception of having fleas -- they all seem to have those blasted fleas! I treated her and started socializing with her on a daily basis. Within a week's time Sophia had kindled six kits! We had no idea that she was pregnant (I've never been very good at palpating a rabbit); she gave us no sign whether "haystaching" or nest building.
I awoke one morning early to find my son on his knees trying to warm up two brand new rabbit kits by the heater. "Where did they come from?" I cried. "Sophia had babies, mom!" I went to Sophia's cage immediately and found she had eaten one kit with three other kits that had wiggled out of the cage and fell to the floor. Two of the three were dead; the third was still alive. Needless to say we hurried to find a nest box and some bedding for the babies. We set up a larger enclosure for Sophia and the nest box and when I went to get Sophia to transfer her I found she was sitting on another kit! This kit was alive and warm, thank goodness, so I placed him in with the other three. My son and I sighed deeply and just looked at each other.
The kit that had been on the floor passed away within a day, but the three remaining were happy and healthy. When they were successfully weaned, we found homes for these babies in much the same way we had the Gang of Five. Only Sophia herself was never seriously considered for adoption. Not too long after the last of Sophia's kits were placed, we live trapped "Big Mac;" an agouti coloured up/down earred rabbit that we thought might have been the father of Sophia's kits. Soon after Big Mac, Sarah Jane joined us. Sarah Jane, too, had a surprise in store for us ... five beautiful kits were born about two weeks later. Sarah Jane, at least, at the decency to give us a heads-up before she kindled! You can find more of Sarah Jane's story on our facebook page. Be warned ... it may cause you to grab your tissue box.
In early July we attended the first
Firecracker 500 Rabbit Show and took all of Sarah Jane's kits with us.
Her one and only little buck -- we hadn't even named him yet -- was
scooped up in a hurry by a gentleman who loved rabbits and wanted a
little buck of his own. We named the remaining kits
"Mopsey," who was the fuzzy bunny;
"Alexandria," who was the splay-legged bunny; "LilyMac," who is an
agouti coloured bunny; and, last but not least, "MayBelle," who was
Maybelle found her home soon after with a friend of ours. Mopsey, because of her need of special care in grooming, was surrendered to the Michigan Humane Society. I had reasoned after a great deal of thought that they would be better able to find an appropriate home for her. The gentleman at the MHS assured me that they were very strict about how they placed their bunnies. I had to trust in that. That was last year, summer 2013. I still had Alexandria, Lily Mac and Sarah Jane that I was fostering. Although, after time had passed, I had fallen in love with Sarah Jane and decided I couldn't let her go anywhere. Several weeks after I made that decision I contacted a local rescue, Tiny Paws Rescue & Sanctuary, and almost begged for their help in placing the remaining two of Sarah Jane's babies. It wasn't long before I heard from Tiny Paws and the wheels of adoption began picking up speed.
Sophia was spayed and spent several months in our home learning to use the litter box and how a home sounds and works. She was very timid and shy at first; hiding in her hand-me-down cat condo that our cat, Chessie, refused to use. Soon Cloud was neutered and began his recovery in another area of our home. He took to the litter box fantastically, but was also timid. Cloud had a reason to be timid. In fact, he would actually cringe when we would reach out to pet him. The woman who had surrendered him assured me that he hadn't been abused, but the cringing told me only one thing -- he had been. Cloud came around to us little bit by little bit. When Sophia moved on to another foster home with Tiny Paws, Cloud moved into her former residence and before long, we were seeing binkies! I can't tell you how light that made my heart. Cloud was happy! He felt safe.
Alexandria was up next for a spay. We had her in a different location than Cloud and we tried the same steps with her as we had Sophia and Cloud, but we saw some problems with the litter training. I worked with Alexandria, trying to adjust her litter box and talking to her. (Yes, I talk to all my bunnies.) Shortly after her surgery, Alexandria and Cloud were turned over to Tiny Paws. To say the house was quieter and felt empty is an understatement. I missed those silly buns. I've since learned that Alexandria is in the process of being adopted! My heart would sing, if it could! Cloud is undergoing some treatment for an abscess that I had tried to tend.
Lily Mac is awaiting her turn to be spayed. Sarah Jane moved on in another form.
Sarah Jane became such a special bun to me that I just
couldn't adopt her out. She was a very kind and gentle soul. My husband
would often "dance" with her and I would play peek-a-boo, believe it or
not. I would call her name and hide and she would pop up and
look for me; then, I would pop up and kiss her nose!
Today I am
grieving the loss of my sweet Sarah Jane. We don't know what caused her
death, but she presented with a number of symptoms that even baffled
the doctor. We had thought she had a parasite, but tested negative for
that. She was extremely thin, having lost at least 25% of her weight in a
couple of days. She was listless, extremely thirsty, labored when
trying to move around, and her respiration was unsteady. We suspect she was battling some form of severe intestinal issue.
Jane died in my arms yesterday morning, July 23, 2014. Oh how I loved
that bunny! I don't think there will ever be a day where I don't think
of her or miss her. I just wish we could have helped her ... but, it was
her time. I whispered in her ear that it was okay to cross the bridge
if that was what she needed to do. I told her that I loved her. I held
her for a very long time, as did my husband before he made a bed for her
in our backyard. I wrapped her gently in a fleece, held her, and cried
some more. When my husband was finished, I placed her carefully in the bed and
sprinkled God's earth over her.
That brings the story to today -- the day after my sweet Sarah Jane crossed the rainbow bridge. What a journey this has been for us. We've learned so much more than I could ever hope to pass on to others. We've gained more than we could ever have imagined. In a word, we've been blessed.
Lily Mac will stay with us until it is time for her plan to take action.