Thursday, 2 April 2009

Interview - Meet Keith - Rabbit Fosterer and Educator

Keith is a fosterer for The Buckeye House Rabbit Society and has kindly spent some time answering my questions. He has been fostering for many years and is very experienced in all things rabbit.

I asked Keith some questions about fostering and I hope you enjoy reading his answers.

How did you first become interested in fostering rabbits?

Sue & I were members of the Buckeye chapter of the House Rabbit Society and there was an article in a newsletter about a shelter in Bowling Green, Ohio which had seized 50 rabbits in a neglect case. The closest volunteer was in Cleveland, about 80+ miles from the shelter and BHRS was hoping someone closer could help out the shelter. We live 30 miles from BG so we decided to do what we could to help. The shelter was overwhelmed and several of the rabbits had potentially serious medical conditions. We offered to take 3 of the sickest ones home with us… and the rest is history!

How many rabbits have you fostered and how many have been special needs bunnies?

I don’t know the exact number (Sue has those records), but I would guess the number is close to 80 or more. “Special needs” is hard to define. That could refer to health or behavioral problems. I know that we’ve had about 10 or more that have required more intense medical care than just basic spay/neuter/parasites/long nails.

Did you have any preconceived notions about fostering?

Not really. We knew it would be hard work and that there would be a never-ending stream of rabbits needing fostering, since very few shelters in our area accept rabbits.

You have a forever bunny, where did she come from?

Her name is Casey and she came from the initial bunch of seized rabbits that got us into fostering in the first place! She was just a baby then.

Does she get on with the foster bunnies? And is she a free range house bunny?

Casey’s kind of a loner, at least as far as the other rabbits go. However, she does enjoy interacting with (usually teasing), our dogs and our cat. She is not allowed free range because the entire house is not bunny-proofed and there are waaaaaay too many things she could get injured from (a pack of thundering hounds running through the house is one example).

Do you find the foster rabbits to have any psychological problems when you first receive them?

There’s nothing that’s universal. Most of them are a little shy at first, naturally. And we have had some that came from farming operations that are completely fearful of human contact, so they require extra socialization attention. Others however are quite friendly right from the start, usually because they had human interaction from their owners before they were released or surrendered.

What do you do to prepare for a new arrival?

We get an x-pen prepared with new rugs, a clean litterbox with hay, food & water bowls, toys, and a hiding box.

How do you give them space and time to adjust?

“Private” space is non-existant at our house. We are always at maximum capacity! However, each bun has a 4’ X 4’ pen with plenty of room to explore and a cardboard box that they can hide in. We also give each foster a small stuffed animal that they often become attached to, laying next to it and even grooming it. When they get adopted, we keep the stuffed animal with them so that they have something with a familiar scent to keep them company while they get comfortable in their new home.

Patty - now a sanctuary rabbit. Enjoying her time but she had been repeatedly overlooked as she was considered 'old'.

Do you find that some rabbits are more difficult than others to bring out of their shell?

The ones that we got from a meat farm were quite difficult. Most of the rescues crave the attention though, so they start getting friendly (and curious) as soon as they get settled in.

Do you foster the buns to be purely house rabbits?

Yes. All of our rabbits must be adopted into indoor homes.

How does your rabbit get on with your four dogs and cat?

The rabbits tend to dominate all of their relationships with other animals, whether it be dog, cat, human, or even another rabbit.
Our cat can escape to the basement via a small cat door, although one of our rabbits learned that she could go through that door too, and would chase the cat down the basement stairs.
Our dogs are all trained as soon as they come into our “pack” that the rabbits are off limits. They learn that they must tolerate rabbits running around them, climbing on them, and even moving the dogs tail out of the way if it blocks the rabbits path.

What type of dogs do you have and did you get them after your rabbit?

We have 3 German Shepards, (ranging from 65 to 115 pounds), and a Shetland Sheepdog mix. All of them are rescues and arrived at different times, however all of them arrived when rabbits were already living in the house. We had one dog, a Shepard/Beagle mix that lived there before we had any rabbits, but she generally ignored the buns, expect to excitedly clean up any stray poops (rabbit droppings seem to be a delicacy for dogs).

In your fostering of rabbits, at what stage did you see it necessary to impart advice about rabbits?

Usually the education part of our work starts with the initial phone call or e-mail from a prospective adopter.
Rarely are we contacted by someone who already has had a house rabbit and knows all the specifics and secrets of caring for them.
One of the first things we do is to mail them an “Info Packet” that addresses some of the most important things that an owner would need to know.
In that way, if they decide to go somewhere else for a rabbit, they still have received some basic info to consider before they actually become owners.

Who generally asks for information?

Everyone is anxious to get the info pack. People that are considering a rabbit who’ve never had one before ask the most questions, of course.

Are there any specific questions that most people ask?

Well, the most common questions are “How much do you charge?” and “Are all of your rabbits litterbox trained?”

What type of assistance to you give to shelters? And how many shelters do you help?

We offer them info packets and brochures to hand out to people that adopt rabbits. We visit them and offer to train any of their staff in basic rabbit handling, and care & nutritional needs. We always check over their rabbits for obvious conditions that require veterinary care, and we trim everybun’s nails. We offer to post their rabbits on our Petfinder website to increase visability to potential adopters. And we give guidance on how to evaluate potential adopters. Lastly, we let them know what we are always available to offer advice and help to the shelter staff, and to anyone that adopts from them.
I think we’ve worked with about 8-10 different shelters and rescue groups over the years.

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?

Our area is largely rural, and rabbits are almost always considered to be short-lived, hutch-housed, starter pets for kids. The concept of having them as house pets is still a relative oddity for the majority of people around here.

So we spend a lot of time explaining that they are easy to litter train, very sociable towards people, and make fantastic pets for people who work because the rabbit’s activity schedule coincides with the average day worker’s home time.

It’s still hard to get people used to the idea of paying more for the vet care of their animal than what they paid for it too.

Belle - now a sanctuary rabbit. Being an older rabbit she was overlooked for adoption.

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?)

Wow, where do you start? I WISH for a lot of things, but the reality is that not everyone cares for their animals with the same level of consideration for the animal.

Of course, Easter is when so many people make the impulse buy and fail to educate themselves about the pet they are taking responsibility for.

It comes down to individuals taking responsibility – whether it’s the individual buying it, or the one selling it.

People need to know what they’re getting into and if the store that’s selling animals won’t give them the necessary info to make an informed decision (which is often the case with Easter buns), then the buyer should find out themselves before making the commitment.

Do you meet the new family of the bunny, when the bunny is adopted?

Yes. First they must come to our house to visit the fosters and see what we use for housing, food, toys, etc. Then, since most of them are not already properly prepared, we ask them to contact us when they are prepared then we schedule a time to bring the rabbit to them. At that time, we perform a cursory inspection to make sure they’ve not overlooked anything, answer the inevitable last minute questions, and complete the adoption paperwork.

Do you ‘vet’ the prospective new family? – and how can you tell they are right?

They must complete an adoption application which we use to identify potential problems or areas that they may need to receive more education about.

And if so - can you judge their commitment to the rabbit?

We try to. Most of time, it’s easy to discourage the one’s that seem unsuitable. Either they don’t intend to keep the bun inside the home, or they find the $40 adoption fee to be excessive.

And on the same line – have any rabbits ever been returned to you?

Oh yes, unfortunately. Despite our advising people that they can live up to 10 years old or more, and that “the children” will likely grow tired of the rabbit so the parents have to accept responsibility for the care – we have had people give them back.

It is a provision of the adoption contract that the rabbit must come back to HRS if they can’t care for it any longer.

We’ve had people give back their rabbits after 3 or more years!

Personally, I don’t understand how someone can keep a pet for that long and then just decide to give it up.

Sadie - a sanctuary rabbit - a beautiful Holland Lop who sometimes bites unexpectedly.

And if they were – what could be changed so that it won’t happen (to them) again?

Won’t happen to the rabbit, or won’t happen to the owners? We’ve only ever had one individual rabbit that was adopted and returned more than once. That was a bun that had a bad habit of launching surprise bite attacks when it was least expected. Even though each of the adopters was warned of her problem, they wanted to try to reform her. After she’d been returned 3 times, she was placed into foster care as a “Sanctuary” rabbit, meaning she will not be adopted out again and will spend the rest of her life in permanent foster care. She is one of 3 sanctuary buns in our foster home right now.

Is there anything that you would like to mention?

Just like any other pet, rabbits are not the best choice for every home or every owner.

In the right environment, they are fantastically good pets who crave human attention, and are a joy to observe and interact with.

It has always amazed me how different each rabbit’s personality is, and that’s why getting a rescued rabbit from a fosterer is so cool – you have a person that has spent enough time with each one so that they can help you choose which one is the best fit for your home situation.

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

An educated owner who understands both the physiological and psychological needs of the animal and is willing to “let them be a rabbit” instead of trying to “make” the rabbit behave un-naturally. There is no greater sense of personal satisfaction than when you have taken in a frightened, shy, prey species animal and watched them transform into a loving, trusting, secure pet who looks forward to your attention!

Thank you very much Keith for sharing your experience and advice!

If you are thinking about a rabbit this Easter please make it a chocolate one or a soft toy :)
If you cannot give an indoor home to a rescue rabbit - but love rabbits dearly - then please consider donating some greatly appreciated funds towards supporting a sanctuary rabbit.

(I did this before I gave a permanent home to my first rescue rabbit Zai).
This is also the 2nd LAST DAY to purchase raffle tickets to win the Arabella Rabbit Bag (see pic on right - at top). ALL monies raised go directly to the rescue rabbits :)


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I am really sorry that this coment has been left here - whilst it is very informative it is not relevant to this post.

    In all my lack of blogging experience I tried to remove it but couldn't - so I apologise.

  3. Wonderful interview with Keith, Annette! I really enjoyed reading it and I learned a lot. I especially liked the part about the rabbits interacting with Keith's other animals.

  4. P.S. Re deleting comments
    (For some reason, I have to be in Internet Explorer before I can see the trashcan icon!)

  5. Another lovely and informative read, thank you Annette.

  6. What an interesting read. I had no idea rabbits are so domineering over other pets.

  7. It's true Maureen - rabbits can be very territorial and aggressive - Arabella is!! She definitely rules our house!

    For a very small animal they have a huge presence!


thanks for leaving your lovely comment and taking the time to read my post, appreciated