Baton Rouge, LA

Interview with a Rabbit Rescuer

This interview was done on 9/27/07 by Victoria for a paper on animal careers. Vikki is studying to be a veterinary technician at Delgado Community College.

I am doing a project on animal careers, what would be the title of your career with the rabbit rescue?
Founder, President of Magic Happens Rabbit Rescue (unofficial)

What type of education do you have? Do you have a college degree? If so, is it required for your career? Or do you recommend having one to run a rescue?
I have some college education (minor in animal science). I do not have a degree and am not pursuing one. My career does not recommend a degree though any can be helpful, whether animal science or administrative, or even public speaking.

Is there any type of Licensing/registration requirements for your rescue?
If we were non-profit yes, there would be LOTS but not all resuces are non-profit.

How long have you worked with animals for and what was it about rabbits that made you decide to begin the rescue?
I have been around and owned animals for literally my entire life, even "working" with them at 12yrs old helping to teach horseback riding lessons. I volunteered with other rescues (mostly fostering) for a couple years, and I had always dreamed of helping at or creating an animal rescue, but never imagined it would happen so soon, or be rabbits-only!
MHRR came about when I was working at Petco and I saw lots of small animals "dumped" or dropped off at the store. Most were adopted out by Petco (no warranty, no adoption fee) like the hamsters and lizards, but at the time they did not sell rabbits, and were not really equipped to handle a larger "small mammal." I had rabbits at home, and I volunteered to take them home and house them/care for them until a home could be found (aka a customer walking into the store and asking if we sold them or knew of a pet store who did), and slowly but surely, people found out that I would do so and would bring me rabbits, even from other stores or individuals who heard someone at Petco did that. Eventually I had other people offer to help foster and find homes, and that's when when I realized, hey, I started an animal rescue group!

How old is the rescue?
November '07 will mark our 3rd birthday - counting from when our first volunteer joined and we technically became a group instead of an individual.

What all did you have to do in order to start up the rescue?
The biggest challenge we faced is finding foster parents/volunteers who will help look after the rabbits until homes are found. We have very few people who can/will foster, but many who will help do events, come clean cages at the "main house" aka my house, or go pick up a rabbit out-of-town when I cannot.
Once we found/built an area to house them all, we started looking for an avenue to find them homes. We got our biggest help from and other rescue websites, and also posting flyers at the pet stores, but our biggest help has word-of-mouth. Once the newspaper did a story on us and we had a booth at the LSU Vet School Open House, the number of our adoptables AND adopted buns skyrocketed!
Lastly, our other big challenge/concern is financial - we have ongoing fundraisers and sponsor programs, in which the sponsor-a-snip program to help get our buns spayed & neutered has been the most helpful. We have networked and made many friends at feed stores, vet clinics, and such, and can get our food and hay at a greatly-reduced rate, as well as medical care. We've also learned how to buy and do things in bulk!

What duties does your daily routine include?
Our daily routine is mostly just giving pelleted feed, hay, refilling water bottles, and doing a quick inspection of everybody and their habitat. As needed we change litterboxes and clean cages. We have a cage-cleanup day every other Sunday where volunteers come and help sanitize everything, and every other month we give everybun a mini-physical to check teeth, nails, etc. In addition to direct care, my daily routine also consists of answering phone calls & emails from prospective adopters, people looking to give up a rabbit, those with care questions, or event/foster care coordination. I also update the website almost every day, and do all the photography & pet profile updating for each individual rabbit.

How do you provide veterinary care for the animals? What type of veterinary care is needed for them?
We have a few vets in Baton Rouge (and one in Thibodaux) who give us discounted or free services. We LOVE our vets!
Thankfully rabbits do not require yearly vaccinations (though they do in other countries, but those diseases are not common at all in the U.S.), but we do get them spayed & neutered. Spaying & neutering not only helps health-wise by greatly reducing the chance of ovarian cancer in females, but it REALLY helps behavior-wise, which is the main reason that the rabbits are given up in the first place. If we can get the behavior in check, often we can get the families to not even consider giving up the animal. In the behavioral sense, it helps with litterbox training, spraying, biting/territorial issues, fighting, chewing furniture, and mellowing them out overall. Happier rabbit + happier family = a happy ending! Other veterinary care includes fecal testing for parasites, eye injuries or bite wounds from a fight, or teeth trimming.

How do you get the funding to take care of them? Do you make any profit from the rescue?
We rely on adoption fees and donations from the general public for our funding. We make noooo profit whatsoever. :) The months we are in the green we use the extra funds to buy things for the rabbits, whether it is treats or better cages, but that is rare. Most of our funds go right back into the adoptables, by upgrading cages, replacing old water bottles, or investing in event resources, like printed materials to pass out to those interested in adopting a rabbit. No one in our group is paid, not even me!

How does your foster program work?
Those who would like to foster are encouraged to fill out an adoption application (until we get an actual foster form worked out). This lets us know what type of rabbit will be best for the foster home - a college student who is not home frequently but is patient & understanding about a nervous bun would be great for a rabbit who is timid and just needs some time to relax, whereas a family who is home often and can tend to a rabbit more frequently would be better for a playful rabbit who wants constant attention or bites the bars of his cage to be let out to go explore. Just like our adoptions, we are willing to work with anyone on education of rabbit care and what is needed for a rabbit in general, or the rabbit they are most interested in. We really like foster homes for many reasons-
1. The rabbit gets more one-on-one attention, which is great for any animal! This also helps them become more adoptable by being friendlier, and getting a better idea of their likes & dislikes.
2. It eases the "strain" at the main house, where we often fill 20+ bowls, hayracks, and waterbottles a night!
3. The foster family is often key in finding the rabbit a new home - either they end up adopting themselves, or someone who comes to visit their home falls in love, or just by having it in the home they speak of the adoptable more frequently, sometimes to just the right person!

What type of educational visits do you perform for school and events?
We have done pet care seminars for a boyscout pack to help them earn a badge, and we have done an all-about-rabbits seminar to the daycamp kids at BREC's Bluebonnet Swamp, where we discussed everything from anatomy and behavior to husbandry and adoption. More frequently we go to events such as fairs & events (like the LSU Vet School Open House, Girl Scouts' Family Day, and Gonzales' Art Gumbo Market) and have a booth. Our booth always has rabbits available for petting, handouts on rabbit care and our contact information, some fundraiser items, some educational items, and depending on the place, we try to participate. At the Girl Scout Family Day we do face painting, and sometimes at the Art Gumbo Market we do photos with the rabbits. Wherever we go, we try to tweak the usual facts/presentation to the audience and age level. No presentation is ever the same!

Is your program ran strictly by volunteers?
Yes. We <3 our volunteers!! Some come every clean-up day and event, and others we see maybe 3x a year. We love everybody the same regardless of vegan views, volunteer hours, etc.

Do you consider running the rescue your career?
If it paid the bills I definitely would. :) I do spend just as much if not more time on the rescue and it's background work (such as website maintenance, shopping for supplies, or picking up new bunnies) nearly every week!

Do you find that there are any current "trends" in your rescue? What type of oppurtunities do you see for the rescue in the future?
Our main trends are the school year and Easter/Christmas. Adoption increases before Easter (when we are extra careful with screening) and after the school year begins (particularly after the first report card), and just after Christmas - these are the times when rabbits are most often bought for children.
We see more frequent drop-offs after Easter and throughout the summer - most common reasons cited are they got too big, they don't have time for it (especially when kids are away all summer), or it doesn't play nicely with their child (because it's in puberty months). Also, we get entire litters because whoops, their two "females" from the pet store were too young to tell, and they're not both girls!
We use Easter as a HUGE opportunity to educate the general public about rabbit care & promote the fact that there are a substantial amount of rabbits in our area needing homes. We are currently the only rabbit-specific rescue in Louisiana, though there were two others before us. Rabbits are the 3rd most popular pet behind cats and dogs, but still in the "exotic" or "pocket pet" category where they are often treated as a throw-it-in-a-cage pet. Because of the Easter hype we try to visit schools & groups at this time and let them know about our adoptables and why they are there (which are the exact reasons they should think long and hard about getting one at that time of year - size, puberty months, litter-training, etc.). Last Easter we were featured in the Advocate and we had lots of phone calls and emails about not just adopting, but also care for the rabbits they already had. If we can help the rabbits who already have a home KEEP their home, we may not be needed so much!

Is running the rescue similiar to that of running a business?
Yes - we have paperwork (adoption applications, custody transfer forms, vet receipts), clients/customers (adopters, general public, persons calling to ask questions about rabbit care), volunteers to manage and coordinate for events or transport, and "inventory" (the rabbits!) to keep in good shape and market (advertising) to the public.

What type of facilities do the rabbits live in and where are those located?
Though we strongly prefer indoor homes, we have to house some of them outside just to be able to get them out of the pound or running loose in neighborhoods. Our future plans include having an actual climate-controlled building for not just housing, but also for groups to have "field-trips" to and use for services such as nail trims, bonding sessions, and boarding. But until then, all buns have roomy cages, hutches, or pens with all the accommodations - hideaways, litterboxes, toys, water bottles, food bowls, and fans, and in the summer we offer ceramic tiles and frozen water bottles to help keep them cool.

How is your rescue different from the way other rescues are run? Are there any similiarities between them?
Because we have no central facility there is no place for people to come and "browse" the pets for adoption. Because we do not have non-profit tax status, we cannot do adoptions at Petsmart and Petco, though we meet every other requirement (including spay & neuter). Add that to the fact that not many people think "adoption - look online" before heading to 1 of 10 local pet stores, and you can see how it can make adoptions more difficult!
Because of the nature of rabbits we have to do a lot of education sometimes - most of the general public knows that dogs need vaccinations every year, but not many know that a rabbits' teeth can become overgrown and interfere with chewing, causing weight loss, which in turn can cause gas, and eventually death if not treated! Most of the public also know that cats like litterboxes with kitty litter - most do not know that rabbits can be box-trained, but not with clumping litter as it can "clump" in their intestines if ingested. We send home a care booklet with lots of information, even recommended vets in the area, for this reason.
We are similar to other groups in that we screen our potential homes with an open-ended questionaire. Our adoption applications include thought-provoking questions such as "what will happen if you move or get another pet and cannot keep your rabbit?" or "Which vet will you take the rabbit to if it gets sick?" There isn't necessarily a correct or perfect answer to each question. For instance, on the vet question, we get all sorts of answers from "My current vet - Dr. John Doe at Blankety-Blank Clinic" to "I don't have a current vet, can you suggest one?" or the occasional "Rabbits can go to a vet?" We also rely on donations from the public and adoption fees for funding, and must do our own "marketing" to get our pets into the view of the public. We all work many long, hard hours both in direct care and behind-the-scenes with few thank-you's, but the post-adoption updates, photos, and compliments from happy bunny owners are completely worth it. :)