by Diana Hockley
Here at KRL we like to feature animal rescues around the world because animal rescue is so important. Easter seemed like a perfect time to feature a rabbit rescue so we took some time to chat with Luke Stultz, the current president of the Minnesota Companion Rabbit Society, about what they do.
KRL: Rescuing and fostering animals is a labor of love and total dedication. What was the catalyst for the creation of Minnesota Rabbit Companion Society? And when did it come to be?
MCRS: Prior to forming MCRS, Minnesota had a House Rabbit Society chapter. The volunteers chose to break away from HRS and form MCRS because they wanted more flexibility and control over local organizational decisions and how funds were used. That was in 2005. A few of the events and programs that were started after the split are Hoppy Hour, Agility, and Therapy.
KRL: What sort of set-up do you have – is it a private house, a shed or a purpose-built complex?
MCRS: We are a volunteer-based organization and we run things from our kitchen tables. There is a space we lease to hold adoption events and to sell food, hay, and supplies; however, we are not set up to house rabbits in that space. Our network of fosters keep rabbits at their homes and transport them to the adoption events.
KRL: What type of animals do you take in? Just rabbits or do you take in others too? And how many can you accommodate?
MCRS: We only take in rabbits; however, all our intakes come through humane societies and municipal animal control agencies. We are not currently set up to take rabbits from the general public. At this time, we can accommodate 55 rabbits at one time in our volunteer foster system.
KRL: Do you have to be a registered charity for rescue or tax exemption purposes?
MCRS: Yes, in order to receive tax-exempt donations from individuals, an organization needs to be a registered charity. We are registered as 501(c)(3) with the IRS and as a charity in good standing with the State of Minnesota.
KRL: Do the local authorities support you?
MCRS: Absolutely. We have strong partnerships with various municipalities and non-profit organizations around the Twin Cities. When one of those organizations has rabbits that are not immediately adoptable because of behavioral or medical issues, they contact us and, if we have space, we will take the rabbits.
KRL: How does the local community regard your activities and are they supportive in adoption and/or monetary terms?
MCRS: The community is incredibly supportive. The majority of our revenue is from individual donations either made online or in person. We often times get contacted by people who think they need to surrender their rabbit because of a certain behavioral problem. We then invite them to Hoppy Hour and work with them to curb the behavior by understanding why the behavior is occurring. Shelters appreciate what we do because it deters people from just dropping off their rabbits.
KRL: Do you have many volunteers and how do you recruit them?
MCRS: We have a group of amazing volunteers that are passionate about rabbits and MCRS. Currently there are around 125 active volunteers. We recruit volunteers in a number of ways, but the most effective is by word of mouth—current volunteers talk about their experience with our organization and others sign up because of it. We also advertise online, talk with people at events, and suggest people foster if they’re unsure about adoption.
KRL: How did you personally get involved?
MCRS: I got involved in 2011. I had lost my cat and figured it had been long enough to where I could start looking for another. Unfortunately, the first cat I saw looked like the one I lost and that was a no-go. On the adoption site, I started looking at rabbits and was taken with two Netherland Dwarf bunnies—Midge and Dolly. After adopting them, I decided to volunteer and eventually was elected to the board. I’ve been the president of the organization for the last three years.
KRL: Rescues depend on donations from the public – do you charge a small fee for your animals when they are adopted? And do you have PayPal and credit card facilities?
MCRS: We rely heavily on donations from the general public. In addition to those donations, we do charge an adoption fee of $80 plus tax. The adoption fee covers a fraction of the cost for spay/neuter, medical checks, behavioral assessments, microchips, and supplies while the rabbits are in our care.
KRL: Are there any special challenges to rescuing rabbits?
MCRS: One challenge is educating people that domestic rabbits and wild rabbits are two different types of rabbit. When some people have rabbits that they no longer want or are no longer able to care for, they let them go outside (thinking that they see rabbits outside year round, so why would their rabbit be any different?). Well, there are a lot of differences. Some of them are that house rabbits haven’t developed the skills to evade predators, they haven’t developed a proper winter coat, they don’t know they should burrow, etc. We focus on educating people that letting a rabbit go into the wild is a sure death sentence.
KRL: How many animals do you think you have saved so far?
MCRS: Since its inception, MCRS has helped over 1,100 rabbits find their forever homes.
KRL: Have you any fund-raising or adoption events coming up and would you like to give the details?
MCRS: We hold adoption events every two weeks. Prior to the adopting, prospective adopters need to fill out an application, go through the approval process, attend a Bunny Basics class, and attend the adoption event. At the adoption event, they spend time with the rabbits they’re interested in, and possibly some they hadn’t thought about. Often times adopters will attend more than one event before making their choice.
KRL: Do local vets help in any way?
MCRS: Yes. There are a number of vets in the Twin Cities that volunteer their time and will work with us on the cost of medical treatments. Also, there are two organizations in the Twin Cities that perform spay/neuter surgeries on a sliding fee scale—the Minnesota Spay Neuter Assistance Program (MN SNAP) and Kindest Cut. These organizations don’t only help non-profits, but are also available to the general public.
KRL: Does the nearest ASPCA send rabbits to you and do they help if they can?
MCRS: Minnesota doesn’t have an ASPCA, but we do work closely with Animal Control departments in various municipalities. Depending on their capacity, they will help by doing spay/neuter services prior to transfer.
KRL: Have you been involved in any hoarder or big rescues? If so can you tell us about it?
MCRS: Yes, there have been a couple recent confiscations that have happened in Atlanta and Indiana. In both cases, we were contacted to take rabbits to adopt out in Minnesota. We had a volunteer that drove down more than once in both cases to take as many as we could at the time. As far as big rescues in Minnesota, we haven’t seen any over the last few years. I don’t know for sure, but I’d like to think this is in part because of our focus on education.
KRL: What are your most urgent needs right now and how can people help?
MCRS: Our biggest needs are supply donations, monetary donations, and foster homes. We often times are asked to take in confiscations from other states, and we help when we can; however, without more foster homes, we often times hit capacity. We also provide all supplies for our foster homes and can always use more supplies. To make it easy for people to donate, we have a wish list on Amazon.com (amzn.com/w/39W2LQYDSMSN6).
KRL: Do you have many social activities, such as shows or any “Open Days” for the public?
MCRS: We hold Hoppy Hour 2-3 times per week around the Twin Cities. Hoppy Hour is a chance for people to bring their rabbits and let them socialize with other rabbits. This is important because rabbits are social animals and do better overall with social interaction.
We hold two Bunny Basics classes each month. These are open to the public, potential adopters, and to staff and volunteers of other rescues. The class is a 1-hour, hands-on experience to learn about what it means to care for a domestic rabbit.
We do 3-4 large events each year, such as Twin Cities Pride and the Minneapolis Pet Expo. This allows us to engage with people who may not know anything about rabbits and really hit on the education part of our mission. It’s at these events we often hear, “Rabbits can do that?!?”
KRL: Is there anything you would like to add?
MCRS: We worked with Ryan O’Hara Theisen, with Lucky Branded Entertainment, to put together both a Hoppy Hour documentary and a music video featuring one of our rabbits. The documentary made it to the Midwest Independent Film Festival in Chicago.
MCRS has an active Therapy team. Our human and rabbit volunteers visit patients at Children’s Hospital, nursing homes, memory care units, and colleges to cheer up and help relieve people’s stress. We make 2-3 visits per week for most of the year. The best part of this is seeing a child’s face light up because they get to forget about the medical stuff and interact with a rabbit for an hour. There are fewer than 100 registered therapy rabbits in the US and about half of them are here in Minnesota.
One other thing we do is Rabbit Agility. Rabbits love to jump, explore, and figure out obstacles and agility mirrors the types of obstacles that would be found in the wild. In addition to exercise, agility provides a great bonding experience for rabbits and their humans. All rabbits start at the first level (white band) and gradually move through all six levels until they’re able to run the ever-changing course without much direction from their human. It’s great to see rabbits in action as they respond to both verbal and body language cues.
KRL: What are your contact details as well as your website URL, FB and Twitter details?
KRL: The Mission Statement or motto of Minnesota Rabbit Rescue is?
MCRS: The mission of MCRS is two-fold:
-Education: to reduce the number of unwanted rabbits and to improve the lives of companion rabbits by educating the public and assisting humane societies.
-Adoption: to help rabbits in area shelters, or those that shelters can no longer care for, to find permanent homes.
MCRS Values Statement:
MCRS believes that every rabbit deserves a chance at life and finding the right forever home. We strive to give every rabbit an enriched life and in doing so promote the very special human/rabbit bond. We seek to mend and cultivate the behavioral, medical, social, mental, and emotional needs of the rabbits in our care. Only in the rare cases when a bunny’s quality of life has severely diminished, with little or no chance for improvement, will we seek a veterinarian’s humane assistance to spare the bunny unnecessary pain and suffering. The cost of medical care shall not be a factor in this decision.
You can check out more animal rescue & pet related articles in KRL’s pet section.