This post contains some graphic and potentially upsetting images below.
On Tuesday night, we welcomed Maya into our care.
We regularly see rabbits that have been casually neglected entering the rescue – rabbits that are underweight, overweight, stained in their own urine, caked in their own faeces, front teeth extending half-way up their face, riddled with ear and fur mites. It sometimes feels like there isn’t anything we haven’t seen.
But it doesn’t make it any easier when one such case arrives at our door.
Earlier in the day on Tuesday, I received a call from someone looking for help to rehome their rabbit – nothing unusual in that as I receive several calls and emails of this nature every day. I listened to the gentlemen explain his circumstances – he’d recently had cause to move home into a flat and the landlord had a no pets policy and so the rabbit needed somewhere else to go. I explained that we didn’t have any immediate vacancies available within the rescue due to high demands (as always) but that I could place him on our rehoming waiting list. He then advised that he had surrendered two rabbits to us earlier in the year, and was struggling to find the help he needed.
Next, he advised, “just to let you know”, that the rabbit had managed to escape her enclosure approximately a month ago and appeared to have been attacked by a cat or something and had a damaged foot which was “absolutely fine now”. This immediately gave me concern. I asked what the vet advice had been for treating the foot and was advised that she had never attended a vet at all.
This changed things immediately, and whilst I genuinely didn’t have any space available I knew I had to do something. I knew that somehow, by the end of the night, I would have found a way to find space for her somewhere, but I just had to make sure this wee girl was safe and that her foot was ok. I asked her owner if he would be able to bring her to us later that day when our care team shift started, and he agreed to bring her in.
Later on, Tuesday evening, when our care shift clocked on for the night, the owner was already waiting for us at the door.
Maya arrived in a crisp box, with no bedding or any attempt to make her feel comfortable for the trip to the rescue.
I take great pride in our charity’s management of owners who have perhaps got things wrong when it comes to the care of their rabbits. With so many myths, and a complete lack of education around rabbit welfare across the pet industry, vet industry and even school education, it is very easy to think you are doing the right thing whilst getting it completely wrong! So, we prefer to educate owners about the mistakes they have made, as opposed to scorn or judge them. We explain what they could have done to improve things and what we will do for the rabbits whilst they are in our care to get them back on track.
Maya was severely malnourished. We use body condition scoring techniques to assess a rabbit’s condition, but it wasn’t necessary in this case – a basic visual check on seeing Maya and it was obvious that she had been casually starved. As I assessed her further, I overheard her owners telling a volunteer colleague, Lynne, about her typical diet. They listed a string of all the right foods: nuggets, grass, daily veg of various types; a smorgasbord of food options that would make even the greediest rabbit struggle to finish their dinner. They did say the only issue they had was that they just couldn’t get her to eat hay.
I checked for signs of diet-related illnesses – something that might explain why she would be so thin whilst enjoying such a good quality of food. The usual signs were not there and whilst I can’t rule it out completely without a vet assessment, I was confident that the list of food was at best exaggerated, but in all honesty much more likely to be a fable. All too often owners feel the need to tell us what they think we want to hear when asking about a rabbit’s history, whilst the reality is we just need to know the truth so we can make the right decisions about their care moving forward.
I then turned my attention to the part of her assessment I knew I must prioritise, but I had been dreading. I looked for the damaged foot.
Her foot was redraw, with a large scabbed wound where one of her toes should have been. There was some indication of infection and several other scabbed areas. It was obvious that the foot had not really received any attention at all, and Maya had essentially been left to tend to her own injuries for goodness knows how long.
It was at this point that my level of understanding had reached its limits. There is a level of general ignorance I have come to expect over the years, but this case was different. Nobody could reasonably consider this rabbit to “be ok”, or that it was acceptable to have left an injury of this scale untreated. I couldn’t just sit back and not say anything.
As Lynne completed the surrender paperwork, I sat in front of the owners and calmly but sternly advised that Maya “was not ok”, and that in fact, in my opinion, she was very unwell! I explained that she was malnourished, which aside from causing issues in itself would further impact her ability to recover from her foot. I explained that it was never acceptable for the foot to have been left unattended and that a vet visit should have been an immediate priority. I explained that we would do everything that we could to help her, but in all reality, the odds were against her. I was not sure whether her foot could be saved as it would need a professional opinion, but surgery options would be limited due to her physical condition and there was a risk that she may lose the foot completely. In no uncertain terms I advised that this was a borderline criminal offence to have allowed a rabbit to suffer to this degree and whilst I did not intend to report them formally for it, it was my opinion that they should never consider rabbit ownership again in the future.
The man seemed shocked at my direct approach, offered a courtesy “Sorry, I didn’t realise” and left shortly afterwards.
We called upon one of our volunteers, Lauren, who is a registered vet nurse. Lauren dropped everything to jump down to the office to help us provide immediate care.
Whilst waiting for Lauren to arrive, Maya settled into one of our temporary living spaces in the office and immediately started to wolf into various foods and treats we offered. She lapped water from her bowl in a manner that indicated she had been denied water for some time. Within minutes she was pulling strands of hay from the feeder and thoroughly enjoying every bite. A number of us commented on how quickly she seemed to relax into the environment. For a rabbit to settle into eating so quickly after the stress of changing environments and the pain she must have been experiencing was an indication to us as to how rare it was for her to access food
It was comforting for us to think that she may be eating so well in recognition that she was now, at last, safe.
After enjoying some food she started to groom herself and I noticed how intently she focused in on her damaged foot – again in a manner that indicated it was still causing pain and irritation for her.
Maya had been kept as an outdoor rabbit but given her condition and the level of care we think she will need, we decided that placing her with an indoor foster carer was best. Whilst all this was going on, other members of the team were dealing with another rabbit arrival due to go to our only vacant indoor placement the same evening, and so it was a mad dash of phone calls to re-arrange things and secure safe spaces for both the rabbits. As always, our team of foster carers were very understanding and accommodating and within no time at all, we had secured the right spaces within our network to allow them both somewhere warm and safe, without compromising on their need for adequate space and levels of care.
When Lauren arrived we agreed that there was nothing an emergency out of hours service could offer in this case, and our objective was simply to try to make her more comfortable for the night until we could get her to a vet the following day for a full assessment. With some consultation online with a veterinary colleague, we decided it was best, for now, to clean up the foot as much as possible – clearing away as much of the scabbing and infection – and offering some pain meds.
Maya sat perfectly as we gently worked away cleaning her foot. She was obviously suffering, but extremely well behaved.
Once we had finished her foot was looking a lot better – still very raw and sore, but at least clean now.
We agreed on a plan of action with Maya’s foster carers, Lynette and Robbie, settled her into a comfortable pet carrier, and she headed off home for the night.
It was a tough night for the care team, and I don’t hide from the fact that we had a real mix of feelings, and many tears were shed. We shared so much sympathy for Maya, that she had found herself in this sorry situation, unable to control her fate and unable to help herself. We shared disgust and anger that someone had allowed her to get into this situation at all, not just in terms of her injury but to let her get so thin too. We shared hope and joy as we watched her relax so quickly and enjoy her food, treats and water. And we shared relief knowing that whilst there was still so much work to do, she now at least had a chance to get better.
It’s now Wednesday, and as I sit here waiting to hear about her vet assessment and writing out the tale to share with you, I am still in shock that someone allowed her to get in this state. Is it anger that I feel? I don’t think so – it would be all too easy to get angry about this. But for me, it is more than anger.
My feelings stretch to deep concern, not just for Maya but the hundreds if not thousands more rabbits in our communities right now who are going unnoticed, suffering from a range of ills and pains, whilst owners are oblivious to their failings to provide the right level of care needed.
I feel frustrated that our legal system, both through legislation and enforcement, means that whilst this kind of treatment exists there is little in real-terms we can do to act upon it: why do things need to get to an extreme or volume before we can intervene and secure prosecution or bans? I am thankful for organisations like Advocates for Rabbit Welfare who continue to fight our legal systems to secure better protection for pet rabbits and hopeful for change in the near future.
I am confused how, in a modern society such as ours, our basic understanding of animal welfare does not provide individuals with the common sense needed to recognise when an animal, rabbit or otherwise, is in pain, distress or hunger. What wrongs are within our education system that allows something so basic to be overlooked?
And I feel grateful that I am part of a team of passionate “rabbit nutters”, some of whom gave up their Tuesday night to be there when it mattered. It may have only helped one rabbit on this occasion, but we are all optimistic that we have made a significant difference for her.
This post was authored by David Bell, Director of Beloved Rabbits.
The new Peter Rabbit movie is released in UK cinemas on Friday 16th March 2018, but already the hype is building. With it’s own controversies already getting the film some negative coverage around the portrayal of bullying rabbits with fruit allergies, the questionable selection of voice actors and the attempts to replace Mr McGregor with a fitter, younger model it is still set to be one of this year’s big blockbuster hits – especially with kids.
So as a rabbit rescue, what do we make of all this fresh attention on rabbits?
It remains to be seen when the film hits the UK’s shores how accurately the behaviours and welfare needs of rabbits will be depicted in the film. From the trailers we can already see a heavy reference to carrots, further confusing the myths about rabbit’s natural diet.
The big risk though is that there will be a further increase in the number of families looking to bring home a rabbit as a family pet for the kids, and often without the upfront research that should be part of such a large decision. And so we anticipate that we will notice an increase in rabbit surrenders to the rescue within a few months of the film’s release. Perhaps we should add a new surrender reason code to our shelter systems before September comes along when the young rabbits hormones are developing and the cute little baby rabbit develops into a lonely, hormonal adult rabbit. Watch out for the “Peter Rabbit Movie Effect” reason code displaying on our website in just a few months 😉
The media image of a cute, cuddly, friendly, cheap and easy pet rabbit is rarely achievable. The PDSA PAW report year-on-year demonstrates that as many as 65% of pet rabbits in the UK are still not getting their basic needs met. The common areas people are falling short are in relation to the need for rabbits to be kept in pairs or small groups, the need for suitable living and exercise space as well as feeding an appropriate diet.
It is no secret that the ease by which families can buy a rabbit compounds the overall welfare issue. Whilst you can walk in to a pet shop, visit a local breeder or even select a free rabbit from classifieds online without any checks being done on your understanding of their needs or what space, housing, finances and time you have for them it is always going to be the rabbits that lose out to the whimsical and disposable nature so many of the UK still view rabbit ownership.
We stand in readiness for the bunny excitement that comes every Easter, and scurrying around in the background are preparing for a bigger impact thanks to Peter, Benjamin, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-Tail and their woodland friends. It should be an exciting time for us, looking forward to watching a relaxing movie about our favourite animal. The reality is the prospect of the film leaves me fearing for the worst.
It is always a challenge when we get a rescue request through by phone or via the website as we assess the circumstances and determine the priority against all those already on our waiting list. There are some cases though that we try to respond to immediately.
Last Friday we received contact from an owner requesting help with rehoming her four rabbits, which were also advertised elsewhere as free to a good home. We immediately started to get things organised and offered space within the rescue.
However, it took until last night to get the owner to authorise us to come to collect the rabbits from her property. The rabbits, now only 3 of them, were described as being two females and a single male, so we were concerned there may be pregnancies. They were also now running free-range in the garden and the neighbours property as the owners could not capture the bunnies.
We offered to attend as a small team so we could use our experience of handling rabbits to capture them and get them in to the rescue.
As I am sure many of you know, chasing rabbits round a garden where they can hide underneath sheds, behind hutches and even squeeze under the fence in to the neighbours garden is far from easy!
As you can see from the photos below, we were successful and all three bunnies are now settling in with us here. Thankfully, they are all female and appear to get on well together at the moment. There may still be a risk of pregnancies depending on what other rabbits they were recently housed with.
We have given them the rescue nicknames Tribble, Uhura and Kathryn Janeway as part of January’s “Sci-Fi & Fantasy” naming theme.
At the start of the year, FBRC challenged our volunteers to turn a £20 start-up fund into some serious cash for the charity. Sinead Monaghan, a foster carer for the charity, describes how she took on the challenge.
When I was asked to participate in the volunteer challenge I was a bit apprehensive as I didn’t think I would be able to come up with anything good enough to make a large profit or have enough people to market to other than friends and family. However I thought I may as well give it a go as I have nothing to lose and it’s for a great cause and something that is really important to me. I thought for a while about things that are popular and things that I enjoy. I realised wax melts are something that are really popular at the moment so I thought I would give wax melt making a try! Can’t be that hard to make…right?!
I researched how to make wax melts and bought the products off eBay with the £20 volunteer start up fund. I started off with 1kg soy wax, 3 scents and a wax mould.
I then had to think of a place I could market my product. I am a huge make up fan and I am in a beauty group on Facebook with lots of ladies who have similar interests as me. I posted on the group telling them about Fairly Beloved Rabbit Care and my challenge. All the ladies were extremely supportive of the charity and as I thought LOVE wax melts! I got a huge number of orders and within the first week I had raised £120.
Once the first lot of ladies had received their wax melts they began sharing pictures of the wax melts they had purchased on the Facebook group for other members to see.
I then had more ladies asking if they could purchase some wax melts and a lot of people interested in wanting to know my role in the charity and what the money I am raising was going towards. I explained to the ladies that I was a foster carer and take care of bunnies until they get their forever home. I also explained that the money I am raising will be going towards vet bills, vaccinations, and neutering and general charity funds. I realised I had to reinvest some of the money I had made to purchase more wax and increased the 3 scents I started out with to 10 scents.
Again I received a huge number of orders over the next 2 weeks and my kitchen was covered in wax! I really enjoy making the wax melts and I believe the more batches I am making the better I am getting at it.
As I was posting the wax melts all over the UK I needed a bunny helper to help with the packaging!
I don’t think my local post office was too pleased to see me standing in the line waiting to post all this! However the lady at the counter could not have been any nicer after I explained I was making wax melts to raise money for Fairly Beloved Rabbit Care and I also raised some more money from them as they wanted to help out and purchase some!
I really am overwhelmed at the support I have received from doing the volunteer challenge. To date I have sold over £500 of wax melts and I believe I have made over 400 wax melts! That’s a profit of almost £440 into the charity’s fund pot!
I am so glad I participated in doing the challenge as I really did not expect to receive the amount of generosity and kindness which I have and if I went with my apprehensive self at the start and didn’t try because I didn’t believe in myself the charity would not beover £400 better off. I can not thank all the people who have donated enough for all their support! Not only have I raised a substantial amount of money for the charity I have also spread Fairly Beloved Rabbit Cares name and aim through the UK with wax melts!
Sinead’s story shows just how easy it is to raise money for Fairly Beloved Rabbit Care. We will now be able to fund neuter ops for approximately 8 rabbits thanks to Sinead’s efforts and the generous discounts offered by some of our vet partners.
Can you turn £20 into big profit for the rabbits in our care?
At Fairly Beloved Rabbit Care, we are strong believers that rabbits need to be kept in pairs or small groups. As sociable animals, constant company of their own species is not only beneficial, but essential.
The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report 2016 indicates as many as 52% of pet rabbits in the UK are still living on their own, equating to approximately 780,000 lonely bunnies! Combined with the fact that on average rabbits are spending 12 hours per day locked in their hutches, this leads to some really significant welfare issues for these animals that by their nature need company, space, exercise and stimulation.
We want to make a really big difference to these statistics here in Scotland, and seek to get more single bunnies bonded with partners, and out to play more often.
If you want to be part of making a real difference, here’s how you can help:
Reducing Single Rabbit Numbers
If you have a single rabbit, consider getting them a buddy. We can help with finding the right rabbit for you and your current bunny, and help with the bonding process.
See http://fbrc.org.uk/adopt for details of our adoption process and a list of the current rabbits looking for homes. See also http://fbrc.org.uk/bonding for more details on the bonding services we offer.
Spreading The Word
Tell people about our campaign, and share our video and details through Social Media.
Support Our Work
It costs on average around £100 for the charity to rescue each rabbit, and in many cases this is considerably higher.
You can support our work by donating or fundraising through Just Giving or sending a text message “ALON17 £5” to 70070
Here at Fairly Beloved Rabbit Care, we have a ‘team’ of rabbits who are selected to stay as our “Residents”. They are specially selected based on their character and their ability to deal with our various events and educational talks. Friendly, laid back and not afraid of the public, they help us to spread the message of modern rabbit welfare standards as we tour the country to raise awareness of the charity and the work that we do.
The residents are now bonded in to one large group here at The Warren, and include a number of different breeds and sizes. But as most will know, we are big fans of the Giant Rabbit here at FBRC and we are lucky enough to have a few in our resident team.
It is with deep sadness that I write this to advise you all that we lost Sheldon last night. Sheldon was approaching 5 years old, which is considered an elderly Giant Continental who typically have a life expectancy of 3 to 5 years. His health has slowly deteriorated over a number of months, as is often the case for Giant rabbits around this age. In deed, this last week or so has been very reminiscent of his sister River and buddy Elphaba, both Continental Giants of a similar age who passed away earlier in the year, and of one of our early Conti’s Kenicke who passed away a few years ago.
I love Continental Giants, but their short lives and their tendency for their system and organs to slowly shut down is definitely a difficult thing to standby and watch.
In recent weeks I have been nursing Sheldon with antibiotics, metacam and eye drops, and regularly cleaning his eye and trimming the fur around his eye to reduce irritation, but the whole time I knew there was little that could actually be done to make him better again.
Earlier yesterday afternoon I commented to one of the volunteers that he wasn’t doing great, but at that time he was still hopping around the run as he has been the past few months: slowly, with some weakness in his hind legs, but still managing to get himself around.
Later in the evening another volunteer drew my attention to him as he lay weak, in the shed. I spent some time with him and the others hoping he would pass peacefully, with his buddies by his side. However, after half an hour or so, as he appeared to be struggling a little I decided to get him to the vet before they closed for the night to help him along his way.
But enough of focusing on his weaknesses the past few weeks and months!
Sheldon has been a fantastic asset to the resident team here at The Warren. He was one of the first new residents to arrive when we moved to The Warren in July 2012 having been born in the rescue from one of 12 Giants we had rescued a few months earlier. As we knew we were planning to get our own place we reserved Sheldon and River straight away and held them in the foster network until they were old enough and our new home was ready for them too. Since then Sheldon has very much been a leader of the residents group, and has been a firm favourite at our events and educational talks. He has been a protector for both Priya and Penny, an elderly Netherland Dwarf who also passed earlier this year, and often acted as their mediator at times when they wanted to get a little tetchy with each other. And I honestly have never seen as strong a bond as there was between Sheldon & Leonard, our other big ginger Conti.
It’s been a tough year, and it seems the 2016 curse has hit our resident group. The reality of course being that the group was formed around 4/5 years ago now, many of them joining us already mid-way through their lives, and as a consequence many of our group have reached an age where sadly this is to be expected. Of course, it doesn’t make it easier. However, as the other residents are all in the one bonded group we have the comfort that at least they all still have company.
I know they had a good life here. I know they’re simple presence at our events made people stop in their tracks and talk to us. This has allowed conversations to take place about rabbit welfare that otherwise wouldn’t have taken place. And so, River and Sheldon, and the many other resident bunnies we’ve had over the years at FBRC, have had a direct impact on improving rabbit welfare in Scotland.
Sheldon was named after one of the lead characters in the tv show The Big Bang Theory. For those of you who follow the show, you know that Sheldon isn’t a fan of human contact or socialisation, but every so often would seek human affection – when it suited him. He also has his own “spot” where he sits, and no one else is allowed to sit in that spot, even when he is not using it. Our Sheldon has firmly secured himself a spot in our memories and there will be no other bunny like him.
Farewell old pal – we’ll miss you.
Have you heard about Coccidiosis? Did you know this common but often overlooked parasite could be living in most pet rabbits in the UK, and in some cases can become fatal?
We recently took in an elderly pair of rabbits in to the rescue, each aged around the 8/9 year mark. They were actually ex-FBRC bunnies that had been returned due to their owner’s change in circumstance after 4 years in what was a perfect home. It was a very reluctant surrender back to the rescue.
All the rabbits who enter our rescue are important to us, but given their history we had a special place in our hearts for these two and were desperate to get them a final permanent home to live out their elderly years.
They had enjoyed an indoor home, and so couldn’t be placed in any of our outdoor foster spaces. Sadly we also have a shortage for indoor space in the rescue, and a very high demand for the few indoor placements we have available. So as is often the case for rabbits entering the rescue under these circumstances they were first placed in our heated sheds at The Warren whilst we desperately re-ordered things around the foster care network to create the much needed indoor space.
Brad & Cinnamon appeared to be coping with this well at first, although clearly weren’t as happy as we wanted them to be. After a few days they started to get a bit quieter though, and were going off their food. On this behaviour change we thankfully got them transferred to an indoor space immediately.
The following day, having settled into their indoor foster home we didn’t get the “bounce back” we were hoping for, and it was clear that their health was beginning to take a nose dive. Our foster carer acted on immediate instinct and the pair were rushed to the vet as soon as possible.
On assessment it was clear that things were rapidly deteriorating and both rabbits were starting to show signs of critical weight loss, lethargy, dehydration and loss of appetite. From that moment on they were receiving the best possible care both from our foster care team and our vets. We have to say a massive thanks to the team at Vets4Pets NewtonMearns for their support throughout the treatment.
Following various tests it was confirmed that they were both positive for Coccidiosis. Treatment continued as we desperately worked hard to get them back to full health. Their condition started to fluctuate from incredibly poor, to showing signs of hope and recovery, crashing back to critical condition.
We sadly have lost Brad & Cinnamon this morning following just over a week of intensive treatment to try to get their health back on track.
So what is Coccidiosis, and why does it have this effect on our rabbits?
Coccidiosis is a parasite infection which can affect various organs including the liver, kidneys and intestinal tract. It is an incredibly common parasite that studies suggest is carried by a large number of rabbits, but the effects of the parasite typically seem to be problematic for younger and older rabbits. Factors such as stress, environmental change, transport and immunosuppression can also trigger the onset of the symptoms.
It is also very difficult to treat, and even harder to eradicate from the living environment, with some studies suggesting the parasite can survive for around 1 year given the right conditions. As well as surviving in the living environment it can survive in grass, hay and bedding materials.
Sadly the reality for any rabbit rescue is that this is a real and regular threat and there is relatively limited options for us to prevent it without significantly impacting our ability to take rabbits in on a regular basis. It is commonly found in areas housing large numbers of rabbits where the parasite can survive and spread easily but can equally be found in any rabbit environment.
We are confident this is not going to create an epidemic for the rescue, for various reasons:
- Our hygiene routine is daily and thorough, and we have also taken this opportunity to review how we can further improve this to gain additional comfort that we are doing everything that we can to limit the transfer of any disease from one rabbit environment to another.
- We also make heavy use of our foster care network, meaning the vast majority of our rabbits are kept in separate environments across multiple homes, limiting cross-contamination.
- There are further measures in place at The Warren where we have multiple environments too.
Further to this, studies would suggest that a majority of rabbits carry the parasite without causing harm. This means we are in no greater or lesser risk today than we have been since starting rabbit rescue six years ago. We do intend to introduce a stricter monitoring criteria for any new, young and elder rabbits within the rescue however in order to more proactively identify early warning indicators of symptoms developing.
With this in mind we do have a concern at the moment with a litter of 6 babies who have been with us for a few weeks. The Autumn babies, now aged around 18 weeks, were in a neighbouring hutch to where Brad & Cinnamon originally arrived. Whilst they are happy, energetic and eating well we have been growing concerned recently that their development is behind where we would expect it to be. This is often symptomatic of multiple generation inbreeding causing some genetic difficulties, but as they are also demonstrating the core symptoms of this parasite too we have an appointment booked for a vet check up tomorrow evening and will progress accordingly. As a precaution they have been removed from our adoption list until a clean bill of health can be offered.
We are sharing our story today not only to highlight the work that often goes on behind the scenes at FBRC dealing with the many sickly bunnies that enter the rescue, but also to try to highlight this lesser known parasite that can cause so many health problems in such a short period of time.
Treatment is difficult and limited in success. It is also not recommended to attempt any proactive or preventative treatments for other rabbits in the surrounding environments due to the intensity of treatments and as such we will only treat based on symptoms. Management of the situation is through careful cleaning routines and close monitoring and identification of any rabbits carrying symptoms.
If you have any concerns about your own rabbits health, please remember that it is always best to seek advice from a rabbit savvy vet in the first instance.
I’ve seen a few posts and questions raised on social media platforms over the past couple of weeks or so from people asking for advice about starting a rabbit rescue. I love to see people’s enthusiasm for the cause, and we always welcome more support. But these questions leave me torn between wanting to encourage enthusiasm and deep concern about what might happen.
In many ways when Feona and I started Fairly Beloved Rabbit Care we were naive to what was in store for us. Having done my research I knew there was very little happening in terms of rabbit rescue in our part of the world. I remember vividly the conversation where we made the final decision to give it a go, and in particular I remember saying to Feona, “Are you sure? Once we start this, there’ll be no way to stop it!”. Since those early days I often use our naivity to explain just how big the issue of rabbit welfare is: We thought we’d save a handful of rabbits a year, and within our first week we’d reached ten rabbits! We now deal with a good couple of hundred per year, and this is only limited by our available space.
The reality is, much of our work is spent dealing with the rabbits we can’t rescue too.
So, if we’re so busy why would I be nervous about other people starting rescues? Surely if there is so much needing done, other rescues would help lighten the load?
Sadly, we find this isn’t the case. In our relatively short time of 5 years in operation we have had numerous cases we have had to step in and support where we take on large numbers of rabbits from the one person. In almost all cases these are people who thought they would try running a “hobby rescue”, and they’ve found themselves totally overwhelmed. With over 20 rabbits in their care they have found that they don’t have the time, money or resources to care for the rabbits properly. In many cases they also haven’t kept up to date with the latest research in rabbit welfare and so often have hutches that are far too small, don’t have access to exercise space, don’t invest in neutering (usually due to lack of funds) and don’t know how to recognise and treat common rabbit ailments such as e-cuniculi, fur mites, ear mites, gut stasis, messy bottoms, UTI, URI, etc.
In all cases we could not fault the ‘owners’ motivation. A heart very much in the right place, desperate to make a difference but simply not having access to everything they need to do the job right. Instead of making things better, they inadvertently make it worse resulting in additional burden on another rescue.
Of course, it can often be worse than this if they choose not to enlist the support of another rescue, the animals in their care are handed off to unsuspecting members of the public who are given outdated care advice and likely receive a rabbit with health conditions that they have not been properly informed about.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying Fairly Beloved Rabbit Care are the only reputable rescue out there – of course we aren’t! But we are few and far between. Nor am I saying we get things perfect everytime – we don’t! (Although we do continuously monitor our service and make improvements based on lessons learned).
Have you noticed that many rescues only run for a few short years before they close? I read an article a few months ago, which I think was in Rabbiting On (the magazine for Rabbit Welfare Association members), about rescue burn out. It discussed how the pressure, stress and sheer volume of work involved in running a rabbit rescue resulted in burn out for those who started it. All that drive, enthusiasm and determination that motivated someone to start a rabbit rescue, dwindles rapidly when the reality of what is involved kicks in. There’s always more needing done than any team of rescuers can manage, and it takes a lot out of you.
I guess I am saying that if you have ever wondered what it would be like to run a rabbit rescue, then there are other ways to find out. Don’t jump straight in to the deep end and try start up your own rescue from scratch. Do your research first, and try to get a full understanding of what is involved.
My strongest message would be learn what its like. Before starting your own rescue, get involved in an established one and throw yourself head-first into every aspect of the charity. Not just the hands-on rabbit care side of things, but try to get involved in fundraising, events, dealing with enquiries, dealing with vets and partners, and most importantly dealing with the big rescue cases. Get used to making the difficult decisions about who’s rabbit gets priority for the one space left in the rescue. Deal with the decision about whether a rabbit gets the chance of risky treatment for that small chance they will make it, or whether you make them comfortable and help them to rainbow bridge.
A great deal of thought needs to go into how you fund the rescue to do things right. There is no profit to be made in rabbit rescue, and you will always juggle bills with fundraising to try to get books to balance. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve dipped into my own pockets just to make sure the service keeps going.
I am very proud of what we’ve achieved at Fairly Beloved Rabbit Care. We’ve spent a lot of time getting our charity structure right so that we protect our volunteers from the risk of “rescue burn out”. We offer great opportunities to get close to the action and really make a difference, whilst spreading the load across an ever increasing team. Our foster-care model means we can flex and shrink to balance demand with finances. We’re very much in this for the long-haul, and have plans to extend our charity to meet the needs of Scotland’s rabbits throughout the country. But, if I had a chance to make that decision again back in 2010 knowing what it is like in reality, would I start my own rabbit rescue? Honestly, I just don’t know.
I wouldn’t change it now though. But the thing we started as a hobby to occupy our spare time, has grown in to a much bigger challenge. Something that I have to do day and night, alongside my full-time job and family life. Rabbit rescue isn’t a hobby. It’s a way of life.
As a bunny owner and foster parent, I have cared for a lot of different bunnies.
One of the main indicators of illness in rabbits is weight loss; this can be due to dental disease, spurs, EC or stress. Whatever the cause, once the cause has been resolved with a trip to the vet, it’s our job as their care giver to help them regain the weight they have lost.
One of the most common ways to help a rabbit gain weight is to give them unlimited pellets, and watch them fatten up that way. Although this does give the desired result, it can be at the detriment of other factors; by increasing nuggets your rabbit will most likely eat less hay which can lead to teeth problems and upset tummies, as nuggets are not a complete food – hay is always necessary.
My most successful way to help a rabbit regain their weight is with the support of your vet, and a balanced healthy diet.
My most trusty resources are scales; baby scales for the rabbit (£39.99 on Amazon) and some trusty kitchen scales.
Firstly, I weigh the bunny. Then, I check the guidelines on the back of the food bag. Now, most owners know the guideline of one egg cup of nuggets a day per kg in body weight and hay the same size as the rabbit’s body, but we are going to change that slightly, as we don’t have a healthy bunny.
So, I find out the recommended food amount from the manufacturer (I highly recommend Burgess Excel or Burgess Excel Junior for this) for the weight they should be. If you don’t know what weight your rabbit should be ask your vet for further advice!
Now, split the recommended food in to two portions; one in the morning and one in the evening.
Alongside this, I include one bowl of healthy veg; spring greens, spinach, kale, peppers – basically a really good mix. I don’t include lettuce due to the high water content; we just want lots of healthy greens!
So, in additional to a full supply of hay, I give them a portion of nuggets in the morning, some veg through out the day and the remainder of their nuggets at night. I highly recommend weighing the food to be exact – as it really does matter! (That’s where the kitchen scales come in).
The reason to approach weight gain like this is to give them what their body needs. If we bombard them with nuggets and all sorts of treats then we aren’t going to get a steady, reliable healthy gain which will see them well into the future. By building them up, we are filling their body with the nutrients that they need, and this will reduce further complications such as tooth problems and a mucky bum.
There is no trick, just time, effort and love 🙂
1. That they speak a language that only rabbit lovers or owners understand
“Oh my goodness did you see that awesome binky” – translates as that was some jump in the air by a very happy bunny
“The bunny has collapsed….oh panic over, it is a DBF” – translates as a dead bunny flop, ie, a bunny lying on its side in a haze of sheer bliss, eyes shut, oblivious to the world around them. This is the happiest you will ever see a bunny but the scariest for a bunny carer.
“You can stop with the foot flicks, I am the boss” – translates as, give over with the attitude and stroppiness, I only said no to anymore treats!!
2. That they never understand neglect but all go through the same emotions on how to deal with it.
As with a lot of rescues, we see a lot of bunnies come into us suffering all stages of neglect, we never harden to it, we just go through the emotions of, upset, anger then determination that we will make a difference to this bunny and other bunnies lives.
3. They are shocked when they first hear the phrase “let’s do a bunny burrito”
No, we are not going to eat the bunny but in fact it is a very useful technique on how to get medicines into an unwilling bunny by wrapping it in a towel.
4. They have a fridge full of fresh veg but only feed themselves and their family frozen
Only the best for these bunnies
5. That when trying to rehabilitate a shy nervous bunny, it is normal for us to spend hours sitting on the floor, even eating our dinner there in the hope the bunny feels safe and secure
The amount of time and effort that every one of our volunteers spends trying to rehabilitate and earn trust of our rescue bunnies is amazing. They all have tried and tested techniques and work hard to get the bunnies ready for their forever home. Winning a bunnies trust is the hardest of all but the most rewarding
6. That our neighbours regularly see us outside in our PJ’s at all hours of the day and night doing what they think is talking to ourselves.
We are having a meaningful conversation with our small furries obviously!!! We are not mad…………….only bunny mad.
7. We are the only people who appreciate dandelions and actually grow them in our gardens
Dandelions are loved by all bunnies and the nutrients are amazing for them.
8. That when we tell our families that we are popping out to see the bunnies for 5 minutes actually means 5 hours
Guilty every time, but they are so cute and every single ones needs kisses and head rubs!!!! How can we say no???
9. That it is normal to find hay on lots of random places, in your tea, washing machines, cars.
In fact, if you leave the house without some you feel like you are missing something
Hay makes up at least 80% of a bunny’s diet so no wonder it gets everywhere.
10. That we have a very unnatural obsession with poo.
You can tell how a rabbit is feeling just by looking at poo so it gets a LOT of air time within the charity, Nice and big, happy bunny, small misshaped, not so happy bunny and needs monitoring, no poo, sick bunny who is not eating and needs a vet asap.
11. That for every bunny who comes in that doesn’t make it, we shed a tear and keep them in our hearts
12. We have sat up all night nursing and monitoring a sick bunny and still go to work the next morning.
Usually after a visit to the vet first thing. A big thank you to all the employees who know how important these animals are to us
13. That every foster carer falls in love with their first foster and many go on to be failed fosters again and again.
Just the way it should be 😉
14. We don’t see the rabbit breed but their personality
Many people ask us what is our favourite breed of rabbit, we usually answer, “The cheeky pesky ones!!!”
Their character is what we fall in love with not the breed.
15. That we are highly skilled at training the bunnies to be the peskiest they can be.
Oh yes we are!!!!! Peskiness is a must in all bunnies!!!
16. That when a volunteer sees their foster rabbit going to their forever home, we will wish them all the luck in the world, but will also have a little cry when they leave.
Every bunny is much loved by each and every one of us. But never fear, we are not sad for long as a new bunny comes along needing much love and care and the process starts all over again. We always have a huge waiting list.
17. That we spend hours researching and educating ourselves on medical conditions, behaviours and techniques so we can be as fully prepared as we can.
It is not always kisses and cuddles with these complicated animals and our volunteers spend a lot of their own time researching and educating themselves so that we are prepared for the challenges we have in front of us with each bunny.
18. That we try very hard not to be affected by rabbit stew jokes.
Everyone thinks they are the first one to crack the rabbit stew joke, but come on folks, its old and its not funny!
19. That patience and love is as much a healer as medicine
We have found that even the most neglected bunnies if given love and support, their will to survive is amazing. Healing the mind is just as important as healing the medical issues. A little bit of love and patience is grasped with both paws. If you believe then they believe too.
20. That we check the public Facebook page on a daily basis in the hope that we will see pictures of our foster bunnies all happy in their new homes.
Go on, indulge us at every opportunity. It makes the effort we put in all the more worthwhile seeing them blossom and happy.