by Diana Hockley
In honor of Easter, this week we are interviewing another Rabbit Rescue, the Colorado House Rabbit Society. We chatted with their manager Nancy La Roche.
KRL: Rescuing animals is a labor of love and total dedication. What was the catalyst for the creation of the Colorado House Rabbit Society and when did it come into being?
Nancy: It began in September 1991. The catalyst is explained below.
KRL: How did you personally get involved?
Nancy: I was volunteering at the old Humane Society of Boulder Valley in Colorado, when I discovered a rabbit name Kirby who had been there for 48 hours and had not eaten, drunk, urinated or defecated. She had come from a quiet apartment where she lived with an elderly lady who had to go into senior care and couldn’t take her with. Kirby found herself in a tiny room between the puppies and the dogs with people flying back and forth between those two places. She was in psychological shock. I was surprised that she was still alive. I was allowed to foster her and I managed to get her to eat from my fingers, but she would NOT eat on her own. I had heard about the House Rabbit Society (founded in 1988), so I called one of the founders, Marinell Harriman, author of The House Rabbit Handbook: How to Live with an Urban Rabbit for advice. After a couple of phone calls and complete success with Kirby, Marinell asked me to become a chapter.
KRL: What sort of set-up do you have? Is it a private house, a shed, or a purpose-built complex?
Nancy: Initially, I lived in a two-story house with a full basement. At first the rabbits were kept in the basement, but eventually, the entire house became filled with a “shop” where people could purchase things for rabbits, an office, the adoption area, etc. The garage became our hay barn.
In 2001, I was able to purchase a two-plus acre property, with a house separate from a building with five rooms, which became our shop, the office, the store room, and two rooms for the rabbits. There was a separate hay barn. We built safe outdoor runs for exercise.
KRL: How many can you accommodate, and do you take in any other animals in an emergency? Do you get animals literally dumped on your doorstep?
Nancy: We can take roughly 150 rabbits in a pinch. This includes singles, pairs, and groups. We have taken in rabbits during wildfires in the area, until they could be returned to their own caregivers.
And yes, we have had rabbits dumped on us. Some are left in boxes or carriers. One was left in our outdoor exercise area (we now keep it locked). The latest “dump” was simply released in our yard, where he was able to go under the fence into a parking area, making it relatively difficult to catch him, but we did!
KRL: Are you a registered charity for rescue or tax exemption purposes?
Nancy: Yes, we are a 501(c)(3), registered as a tax-exempt non-profit with the U.S. government. We are licensed as a rescue/shelter under the Colorado Department of Agriculture, PACFA (Pet Animal Care Facilities Act). We are licensed by the House Rabbit Society as one of its chapters.
KRL: Do the local authorities support you?
Nancy: We have great support from the local animal control officers in Broomfield.
KRL: How does the local community regard your activities and are they supportive in adoption and/or monetary terms?
Nancy: In general, most of the local community don’t know who we are, but those who are interested in rabbit rescue are incredibly supportive as volunteers, adoptions, sponsors, and donors.
KRL: Do your staff or volunteers do any educational visits to schools or kindergartens?
Nancy: In the past, we’ve visited a variety of schools, including kindergartens. We have groups visit us (school classes, girl scouts, etc.) where we teach them about rabbits and explain why they need rescue and adoptive homes.
We’ve also been called upon to teach about rabbits to Vet Techs in training at the Front Range Community College in Fort Collins. Even veterinarians have asked us to teach them about rabbits, and although we aren’t veterinarians ourselves, we are able to explain how the expert rabbit veterinarians treat rabbits for various ailments and put them in touch with those vets.
Anyone interested may take our four-hour class on rabbit care. We don’t charge for this because we want anyone to be
able to get this information.
KRL: Do you have many volunteers and how do you recruit them?
Nancy: We are an all-volunteer organization. There are no paid positions, so our income benefits the rabbits. We have approximately 200 volunteers. Many of them come to us after adopting from us. Some come because they go to a school that requires them to do a certain amount of community service in order to graduate. Many of these stay with us, unless they go to a college too far away to do so. In addition, there are many community groups who volunteer in groups, usually doing special activities such as cleaning the grounds, doing “deep cleaning” in the bunny rooms, or helping with any project.
A lot of people “hear about” us via our website, which has been very useful to many people who have gotten pet rabbits, but don’t know how to care for them. We get many of our volunteers via our website.
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?
Nancy: We have a variety of programs and events to bring in financial support.
• Our Bunny Burrow: Your One-Hop Bunny Shop sells supplies for rabbits, as well as a variety of clothing and gifts with rabbit motifs.
• We place rabbits only in pairs. The adoption fee for a pair of spayed and neutered rabbits is $100. Each adopter receives around 10 hours of personal education and is required to attend a four-hour class about rabbit care.
• For people with a single rabbit, we do the bonding and charge $100 for the adoption of one altered rabbit and the bonding process.
• We have a “Sponsor Program” where people sponsor a rabbit who is waiting for a forever home, giving the cost of a months’ care each month, which is $40.
• Our annual Spring Fling is both a lot of fun and a good fund-raiser. Everyone brings their rabbits. There are contests and fun things for both people and rabbits.
• Our annual Bunny Boutique is an annual pre-holiday sale of things for both rabbits and people who love them.
• We have had a “Hoppy Hour” where people bring their rabbits and allow them all to mingle in a large area together. People and rabbits both love this!
• On occasion, when we have an extraordinary medical expense, we either send an “SOS” email to our members, asking for donations, or create a giving grid, where people can donate.
• And yes, we have both PayPal and credit card facilities.
KRL: What are the special challenges to rescuing rabbits?
Nancy: The biggest challenge, perhaps, is that rabbits can breed like rabbits! An intact female can have a litter every month if she is with an intact male. (This will eventually kill her.) Each litter can be as many as 13 babies (called “kits”). People purchase “two same-sex rabbits” only to discover that they were given a male and a female. They realize this only when they see the litter of babies. By that time, the male has impregnated her again, and she will have another litter in about 30 days. The babies become sexually mature at the age of nine weeks and begin producing offspring.
Rabbits are “induced-ovulators” meaning that the female ovulates when the male mounts her. This guarantees large numbers of rabbits to feed the predators in the wild, and still have enough rabbits left to maintain the species, but it creates nightmares for rabbit rescue organizations.
And finally, people think that domestic rabbits can be turned loose to fend for themselves. This doesn’t make them free, it makes them lunch for a dog, cat, fox, coyote, bird of prey, etc. And when they do survive, they end up creating hundreds of rabbits in an area, leading to people seeing them as destructive, and the rabbits themselves being killed by cars, kids throwing rocks, diseases, parasites, and on and on.
Right now, there are hundreds of stray rabbits in an area of Las Vegas. House Rabbit Society and others are trying to save them, catching them, treating them for health issues, and shipping them to rescues around the country. See: http://www.rabbit.org.
Here in Colorado, we’ve had several mass rescues, some with small numbers (41) others with up to a hundred. There is a location we haven’t been able to get permission to work with, where there are hundreds. In animal shelters, rabbits tend to be a small portion of the entire population, but in terms of strays, rabbits far exceed cats and dogs, primarily because of their ability to breed rapidly.
KRL: How many animals have you saved so far and how easy are rabbits to adopt out to responsible people?
Nancy: As of March 5 (two days ago), we’ve saved 3,544 rabbits. Early on, adoptions were relatively slow. Today, we have adoptions scheduled a month and a half or more into the future. Because of space constraints, and because I am the only one doing adoptions, we can’t place more than three or four a week.
KRL: That’s awesome! Have you any fundraising or adoption events coming up and would you like to give the details? Do you advertise and if so, where?
Nancy: This spring, we plan to have an “Appreciation” event. Everyone is invited, and there will be no charges for anything. We will celebrate our wonderful volunteers, sponsors, champions, donors—everyone who contributes to the chapter’s goal of saving rabbits and getting them into loving homes.
KRL: Do local vet surgeries help in any way with discounted or free services?
Nancy: Our primary vet gives us nice discounts, but surgeries are still very expensive. Other vets also, from time to time, provide services at discounts.
KRL: Does the local pound get rabbits in, and do the people there advise you when they have a rabbit impounded?
Nancy: We have many animal shelters throughout the front range area. Many of them contact us, especially if they have a sick or injured rabbit. The animal shelters typically have no veterinarians able to treat rabbits. From a medical point of view, rabbits are considered an exotic, and only specialized vets can successfully treat them.
KRL: Have you been involved in any hoarder or big rescues? If so can you tell us about it?
Nancy: The worst was many years ago. A woman got a rabbit and had a friend bring his rabbit, so she could have a litter of bunnies. She had no idea how fast they would reproduce. Eventually, she abandoned the house and moved in with a relative. No one knows if she threw food in to them, or if someone else did, but 10 years passed. When a youngster saw a rat run in front of a window (at the level of the window, not on the ground), he told his mother and the authorities took over.
Four feet of droppings and urine filled the house. Pregnant females had their babies in the filth. A Hazmat team took three days to clear it out, and of course, there were many dead rabbits, but there were 90-odd survivors that we took.
KRL: What are your most urgent needs right now and how can people help?
Nancy: We always need money! Now, we very much need a volunteer to take on Community Outreach and assist with adoptions. Donations can be made via our website (see below) using the “Donate” button. Anyone planning to move to our area is welcome to join our volunteer force!
KRL: What are your website URL and Twitter details? PO Box or street address and local phone number?
KRL: The mission statement for your rescue?
Nancy: Our mission has two parts: (1) Rescuing – rescue abandoned rabbits and find permanent adoptive homes for them; and (2) Education – reduce the number of unwanted rabbits and improve rabbits’ lives by educating people on their care and social needs.
P. O. Box Address:
Colorado House Rabbit Society
P.O. Box 238
Broomfield, CO 800238-0238
Phone Number: 303-469-3240
You can check out more animal rescue & pet related articles in our Pet Perspective section.