With spring approaching, Donna Rome is looking at a serious problem: rabbit season.
Rome is already in a tight spot at BunnAgain Rabbit Rescue. She’s taking care of 26 rabbits at the shelter she constructed at her Paradis home in 2014. As the only bunny-specific rescue in the River Parishes (a small handful of shelters and clinics accept rabbits along with other animals), she can’t afford to take on any more abandoned rabbits. But she’s well aware what will win the battle between her head and her heart when the rabbits inevitably come in a few months.
“I should absolutely say no more at all until I get a dozen adopted, but I’m a crazy rabbit lady,” Rome admits.
The cycle happens every year. Spring and Easter bring a boom in purchases of baby rabbits, generally intended as a treat for the kids. Some bunnies make it only a few weeks before they’re given up after failing to meet the cuddle quota because they don’t like being picked up or held. And the ones that are kept three to six months, when puberty hits, can get the boot over the $100 plus it will take to spay or neuter them or their tendency to chew things up to maintain their teeth.
If disappointed owners just drop them outside, these domesticated bunnies lack the instincts to survive.
Ideally, Rome would spend most of her time as an education advocate — sort of a bunny Lorax — speaking at public events, warning people what they’re getting into before they decide to take home a rabbit. But she’s the only employee at BunnAgain in addition to her full-time job, and caring for the rabbits consumes most of her time and money. The post-spring rabbit rush will be a problem, but things are bad now.
“The majority of my rescue rabbits are in a large shed in my yard with some tin tacked along the sides. Before the summer hits, I’ll have to insulate it and close it up to put a window A/C unit in. Rabbits can’t take the heat as well as they can the cold,” Rome said.
It gets worse. Rome’s yard tends to flood, so she needs dirt to soak it up. Mosquitoes will return before long. The rabbits need flea meds. Wood needs cutting. Holes need caulking.
“I just can’t seem to catch up with any of my projects. It takes more than one person, and people who would like to help have jobs and families and can’t come.”
Around Christmastime, Rome went so far as to post a cry for help on Craigslist. Luckily, someone had their rabbit ears up.
Magic Happens Rabbit Rescue in Baton Rouge has been a friend to Rome for years. She’s visited them multiple times to learn about running a rescue operation. Founder Wendy Lincoln started Magic Happens out of her home, just like Rome, 12 years ago. Since then she’s adopted out more than 1,000 rabbits.
“Donna and I are friends on Facebook, so I got the sense she was getting behind. But when she posted on Craigslist she sounded desperate,” Lincoln said.
So Magic Happens showed up at BunnAgain one day with 18 volunteers and a ton of supplies for a day of building, landscaping, cleaning and checking items off Rome’s to-do list.
But they also had some fun with it. Magic Happens didn’t tell Rome about their plans. One of them posed as a lone volunteer over the phone, then the group emerged.
“She was breaking down in hysterics when she realized what was happening,” said Jenny Durst, one of the Magic Happens volunteers. “Miss Donna is an incredible woman. She’s always smiling as she’s fighting to build a rescue.”
The assist from Magic Happens made a lot of headway at BunnAgain, but Rome still needs assistance.
“I need foster homes for bunnies. I need food and hay. I really need people to come out to the yard and help. I need all hands on deck,” she said.
For information on donating or volunteering at BunnAgain, visit BunnAgain Rabbit Rescue and Education on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on caring for rabbits, visit rabbit.org.