Thursday, 26 March 2009

Interview - Meet Rebecca - Rabbit Educator and Special-Needs Carer

Rebecca is the Buckeye House Rabbit Society's volunteer Graphic Artist/Illustrator for their semi annual newsletter. She is also a licensed educator and emergency fosterer for the Miami House Rabbit Society (HRS). She has her own adopted family of rescued special needs buns.

I asked Rebecca a few questions about being a fosterer and an educator. It was enlightening to read her answers.

How did you first become interested in fostering rabbits?

It was something that I always wanted to do but never really had the chance to do yet.
My husband is in the army so we moved shortly after I almost started being a Satellite Foster for the Ohio Buckeye HRS 4-5 years back. I always ended up taking in rabbits that were rescues but also special needs (they would probably not have found homes in most cases anyway, being chronically sick) so that I really didn’t have the time, space or money to take in additional rabbits just for fostering since we lived in an apartment then. Since we moved into a house 3 months ago I now have my foster license and am able to foster for the Miami HRS in case they get swamped and need an additional place to foster. I fostered an injured rabbit for my work (vet office) for a short period of time.

Penny, a very intelligent doe, playing with her wooden 'foraging' game. What a beautiful rabbit she is!

You have your own special needs rabbits? What kinds of special needs are they?

I have four former rescues that I adopted, one of them was just a bit malnourished and needed to be nursed back to a regular weight, the other three have chronic issues.

Aimee Sue, 2yrs. for example, has severe ear infection issues that require intense after care and upkeep (she also had a lateral ear canal ear surgery since she had a severe blood and pus filled ear when I adopted her … the people who found her pregnant mother were nice enough to keep her mother and brother but could not keep all of her siblings; so I took her).

Rocky, (5 yrs?... he was homeless so I am not too sure of the proper age of most of my rabbits) battled Pasteurella twice and is Pastuerella free now for almost two years besides a short Pseudomonas flare up since he has Chronic Upper Respiratory Issues (URI). We used to go to the vet on monthly basis for all kinds of lab work, medication changes, etc. for the last three years with the result that he is now basically resistant against everything. Though now we pay main focus on keeping up his immune system and his environment stress/dust free and he seems to be steadier then ever (he also had an abscess removed two months ago).

Then we have Penny who is 8 yrs. and she has chronic eye issues (clogged tear ducts). Since I had many special needs rabbits before the ones that I currently have I am grateful that I am only dealing with issues that require upkeep and attention to details.

Does a healthy rabbit just turn into a ‘special needs’ rabbit? And if so, why?

They could - and there could be many factors for it. There would be a thousand examples to name I bet, but I will only come up with two (again, those are cases that COULD turn a rabbit into a special needs rabbit but don’t necessary have to):

A rabbit breaks a hind leg, the leg needs to be amputated and the rabbit gets a case of early set arthritis on the remaining and only hind leg that has to now carry all the weight (being now special needs as needing pain meds and maybe having issues like soiling itself, not using the potty right, etc.),

or a rabbit is sneezing but the owner thinks it’s just a common cold and with warmth, and a supplement that was bought from a local petstore everything will turn to normal after awhile. BUT after MONTHS the sneezing got worse, the Bunnie’s nose is now displaying thick discharge and the front paws are crusty from wiping. So in some cases when treating URI’s is dragged out too far, maybe with additionally the wrong litter or maybe even irritating chemicals that are being used around the house, Upper Respiratory Infections CAN soon turn into something very serious, expensive and chronic.

And then there are the URI cases where a well cared for pet gets sick (out of nowhere) with a serious Bacteria infection that is difficult to treat and that turns into something chronic. Such a Bacteria Infection could happen due to a low immune system due to stress or other compromising factors though it is generally hard to tell.

Have the rabbits you’ve looked after had any psychological problems when you first receive them?

Yes, two definitely had! One was extremely cage aggressive but overcame it. He must have been abused. He was maybe only 8 months but was in such a bad shape that when we looked at him and saw that he was quite sick we just wanted to take him home. The rescue was very full at the time and they asked me by email if I wanted to take a look at him since they were not really able to take him (it was years back though and we sadly lost him due to a VERY bad case of Malocclusion just a half year later after nursing him back to health, sad story).

The other example is Rocky my Dutch mix who was a rescue that was brought back from possible adopters multiple times (He never seemed to work out as a second rabbit, getting along with nobody) and it must have left a mark because he is a “defense– biter”. It’s like he seems to be scared to get bitten so he just bites first to scare other rabbits away without any warning signs as regular rabbits would show.

Though he likes attention and learned to like to be petted. His one and only mate that he ever had taught him to…they were up for adoption in cages next to each other for the longest time with her liking every bunny and him hating every bunny, I adopted him as companion for my then rabbit that lost her mate (the malocclusion rescue) and was grieving but surely he didn’t work out and I didn’t dare bring him back after all he had been through being returned. So after his next door cage mate fell ill I took her home since she hadn't been adopted in months (not being litter trained) and was not going to be adopted by having a snotty nose either and I was convinced that she needed proper care at home and not at a facility where resources are scarce anyway.

She ended up being chronic and just when things gotten a turn for the better her kidneys failed. That was when Rocky started to get sick. I suppose that the loss of his one and only mate must have had a much bigger impact on him stress wise (possibly wearing his immune system down and making him susceptible to the Bacteria) than he showed towards us.

Aimee Sue, being very shy, inside her tent. Rabbits love privacy - but Aimee Sue also didn't like getting her infected ear touched.

Do you foster the buns to be purely house rabbits?

Yes, that is what the HRS does (I don’t foster at the time though I am licensed in case I am needed), but my mentor fosterers know more about fostering than me - they have been doing it for years. (Annette says - Hopefully I will be interviewing these fosterers when they get a spare minute or two).

As an Educator can you tell me who generally asks for information?

Sadly it is mainly the group of people that wants to easily “dispose” of their rabbit without having to worry about it (the reasons are often quite sad and no, they don’t want advice or solutions).

I wished I would get more general health and care inquiries!

Are there any specific questions that most people ask?

I am moving, can you take my rabbit?
I bought a rabbit for my granddaughter but she is going to college now and I can’t take care of the thing - don’t you take care of rabbits?

Do you think there is a lack of knowledge about certain aspects of (keeping) rabbits – based on the type of advice that you give out?

Definitely. Rabbits are NO Easter Novelty. They are a 10- 12 yr. commitment (in some cases longer).

They are companion pets just as much as cats and dogs and should be treated with the same respect and compassion as such.
They are living beings that require a lot of care and commitment and they are not cheap either.

The best advice is to go to:
and just browse BEFORE getting a Rabbit FIRST to make sure it really is the right pet!

And has this lack contributed to rabbits being ‘dumped’?

Yes. Some people really think rabbits live as long as for example, a Hamster (2-3 yrs.).
They are not aware that rabbits need physical and mental exercise and that a too small cage set (as mainly sold at pet stores) can lead to cage aggression. They don’t know that rabbits should get spayed and neutered and that they are not cuddly children’s pets that love to be carried around.

And then there is the always present yearly Easter Rabbit frenzy that just wears off too soon when the whole commitment thing kicks in.

Rocky and his then-mate Cayenne, relaxing happily together. This is rabbit love!
What would you like to do, so that more people know more information about rabbits?
(Should there be talks in schools, for example, to make children aware about rabbits? Or should people be discouraged from purchasing ‘disposable’ pets from pet shops? – and more free ads / editorials put in local papers about rescues taking in rabbits?)

I think the “Make mine Chocolate”- campaign is great!
Or just get a stuffed toy rabbit.

I think there should be more education out there, but I think the ones that need educating first should be the parents/grandparents since they are the ones in charge of the Rabbit purchase/ care and vet bills.
You can’t expect a child to fully care and be in charge of a living being, calling the vet for appointments and paying the bills.
So I think it’s the adults that need to know beforehand what they need to expect and whether they want to invest the additional time/ money and care to share this future family member with their child.

To become an Educator what type of learning or training did you do?

Mainly life experience (19 years), plus the HRS knew me and I was a member also.

I know life experience is a great teacher, what have you found invaluable whilst working with rabbits?

I could tell you too many stories about this one but I think it’s important to remember that Rabbits like People are individuals; they have moods, emotions and small personalities.
So I always did best by treating a Rabbit as the individual it is, not the “supposed to be behaving like this and that”.

And what would be the most important things a rescue rabbit must have in their new life?

Lots of attention, love and care and of course the right housing set up (but that is a matter of proper research on the links above ;P ).

Is there anything that you would like to mention?

There is not such a thing as an “impossible” rabbit that is worth dumping because he/she just does not “act right”. Often Rabbits act off because of certain issues and it’s often up to us to do our kind of “investigation” work to find out since they can’t talk -or better- yell at us if they are not happy.
So I would say: Never give up on your Rabbit, the most difficult rabbits in my life were often the most smart and beloved ones I had at the end … it just takes a bit sometime for us to really “hear” them.

Thank You very much Rebecca for sharing your experience and advice !
If you are thinking of adding a rabbit to your family then remember that rabbits can live for 14 years, their medical expenses are as high as dogs and cats and females rabbits Must be spayed to prevent uterine cancer.
If you are still interested (a true bunny lover eh?) then local rescue centres are filled with rabbits looking for safe indoor homes and the love you receive will be endless.
and remember Chocolate bunnies are for Easter and soft toys are for children :)
(I have plenty of soft sculptures in my etsy shop if your kiddie is 'wanting' a bunny).


  1. A candid and educational interview ! Love the photos too, thank you Annette. You inspire me!!

  2. What a great interview! Big thanks to Rebecca for all the work she does to help rabbits!

    And I agree that "Make Mine Chocolate" is a great campaign - and your sculptures are also a wonderful easter idea. Picture books about bunnies are also a really good gift for children who love rabbits.

  3. Thank You Pey, I think facts are so important especially when told by an experienced bunny handler.

    and Thanks Katie, what a wonderful idea about books for children - I would go for that one too. Many years ago the Smithsonian Institute produced book and soft toy packs - and I got the rabbit and otter one's - they were great.


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