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I’m Not A Bunny Person: And Other Lessons From Bunhilda

During the time I’ve been involved in the Long Island Rabbit Rescue, I’ve heard a number of stories of heartbreak and hope that accompany individual rabbits. These animals become “poster buns”. Their very presence carries important lessons: why rabbits should always be kept indoors, why spaying and neutering is essential, why it’s so important to choose a rabbit savvy vet, etc. I imagine Bunhilda’s story could have easily become like that, but for me, she became a poster bun for different lessons. If there’s one thing I should mention, it’s that I’m not a bunny person. That’s exactly what I told the first Long Island Rabbit Rescue members I’d met when explaining why my husband and I really weren’t cut out to care for a rabbit. I was certain that Bunhilda—a silly placeholder name because I thought I’d be taking care of her a few days at most—would be far better off with someone who was a bunny person. I gave a bunch of other excuses but that one sticks out in my mind the most. I learned I wasn’t a bunny person a few years before by way of one of my hobbies. My interest in crocheting, knitting, and spinning yarn had me regularly visiting regional fiber fairs and sheep-to-shawl events. For me, one of the highlights was seeing the little angora rabbits kept by some vendors. Their pens and hutches were always notable among the sheep, goat, and alpaca enclosures. To an amateur spinner in the suburbs, keeping an angora rabbit seemed like a nice addition to my hobby and clearly more manageable than the goat or alpaca route. Naturally wanting to adopt rather than shop, I started to research whether rescue angoras were out there. If I was going to spin luxurious yarn, I might as well rescue a needy animal in the process. Through my research, I learned about the time, expense, and energy required for the basics of rabbit care. I learned about issues like “wool-block,” “flystrike,” and other situations that ranged from icky to nightmarish. I was quick to determine it was way more than I was willing and able to take on. My whim ended there, but not before learning that rescue rabbits do exist and Long Island had such a resource. The information apparently tucked itself into my brain and that was that, until several years later when my husband texted me on Friday afternoon, early in the summer of 2017. “Know anyone who wants a rabbit?” Matt asked. I was quick to respond, “Not us!” That wasn’t the end of the exchange. In reluctantly following up, I learned one of his coworkers found a rabbit in her backyard. It had been wandering her neighborhood for a few weeks. She thought to scoop it up and see if any of her coworkers wanted it before she released it to a more wooded area, thinking that would be the next best thing for it. I could see from the photo Matt texted that this smoky grey, longhaired rabbit was not a wild eastern cottontail. I’m not a bunny person, but even then I knew to abandon a domesticated animal to wild surroundings was almost always a death sentence. “Wait, there is rescue for rabbits. She should contact them,” I told Matt, hoping someone would take the initiative and get this bunny to a safe place and out of my little sphere of worries for the day. I wanted to know an animal in need was going to be okay but also didn’t want to be directly involved. That sort of thing can invite a lot of obligation and hassle, which frankly, I wanted to avoid. I love animals and wanted to help within my limits but I’m not a bunny person. It seems I wasn’t alone in that line of thinking; no one else took the initiative to contact the rescue. That put me in an uncomfortable spot. For a dreadfully anxious person like me, sometimes it’s just easier to make something happen—preferably something good—than wonder about it and get sad. That’s probably what led me to text Matt, “Just bring it here. I’ll email them. We’ll keep the rabbit in the basement for the weekend if we have to. Don’t let her set it loose.” Sometime between getting the rabbit to my office in our semi-finished basement, a frantic trip to Petco, and a lot asking “What do you do for a rabbit?,” Matt and I learned the Long Island Rabbit Rescue doesn’t run a conventional shelter or have a facility. They would provide us with support and supplies but this rabbit was very much with us until a foster spot opened up. It was not expected or ideal. Looking at the scruffy grey rabbit nestled in the corner of a brand-new, too-small “rabbit cage,” I wondered if she was thinking the exact same thing. The weeks that followed were certainly a disruption of our routine. However, they were not the impossible ordeal I was expecting. Bun, as we called her at the time, required that we move some furniture, devote some money and time away from our nearing wedding reception to her comfort and care, and engage in a crash course of rabbit dos-and-don’ts, likes-and-dislikes. There was also a lot of extra cleaning. With time I was less cautious about being bitten—something I thought all rabbits would do often, severely, and unprovoked. I was less worried about causing her to have a heart attack by simply going about my workday nearby. Overall, I found that having a rabbit in the house did not require a major overhaul of my schedule, my bank account, and all my future hopes and dreams, or removal of all our other pets. Rabbit needs are very specific, yes, but in the same way every other domesticated animal’s needs are specific; it was just a matter of knowing them and building a routine around them. I learned is that rabbits are good for problem-solver types of people. Matt being an engineer and me being generally crafty was advantageous when Bun figured out how climb, chew, or otherwise make a mess of something. That meant it was time for us to adjust, build, or compromise on a solution. Bun gave us a challenge, we met it, and we all learned about each other, as well as the power of words like “banana.” This adjust-and-adapt approach became unbelievably important two weeks after Bun’s rescue. Matt found four tiny, squirming creatures surrounded by a mess of fur in Bun’s litter box. The little scamps had somehow eluded detection during both pregnancy checks. Our one unexpected rabbit situation had suddenly quintupled. We had to make a few frantic phone calls, improvise a nest box, and nerve-wrackingly transfer four newborn rabbits into it, but from then on, Bun did most of the work keeping her babies fed and growing. They grew fur, opened their eyes, found their feet, and were immensely adorable, entertaining, and destructive. In a blur, they began to rival their mom in size and soon moved on to foster situations. Bunhilda was then spayed and adopted following her recovery. I vividly remember the evening Matt and I returned to a house without a single rabbit in it for the first time in over two months. It felt like coming home from a funeral. It didn’t stay that way for long. Upon a subsequent visit to the vet, I ran into a familiar face; the smallest and fuzziest of our babies was a feature of the Catnip and Carrots Vet Hospital’s waiting room. She was serving as an adoptable spokesbun for the Rescue and had been given a name from our list of suggestions: Wendy. Though she shied away from the admirers who approached, she eagerly greeted me and it shot me through the heart. The discussion to adopt her following our wedding reception felt like a quick formality. We made plans to pick her up a week or so afterwards but we ended up bringing her home in two days. She’s behind me now as type this, fully grown, spoiled rotten, and looking very much like her mom. Though, unlike her mom, you can tell Wendy has never known a day of discomfort or danger in her life. I talk about her and her mom at a lot at education events and to fellow volunteers when we meet up to offer extra help at town shelters or rescue abandoned rabbits when the call arises. Matt and I never stopped feeling the need to give back for the immense amount of help we received when we made that snap decision, all because we didn’t want to wonder what would happen. I am sad that it was Bunhilda’s recent passing that finally pushed me to get her story down, but I am thankful to know that from the day we took her in, someone has been always been ensuring she was safe and comfortable, including her adopters and the many volunteers who saw to her well being and appreciated her for just who she was. And no, Bunhilda and her story still didn’t finally make me into a bunny person, but she showed me it doesn’t take a bunny person to appreciate and care for rabbits. She will forever be a testament to how many lives can be made better when the right information forces a little bit of action and when a home, minds, and hearts are made to open. Bunhilda is a lesson that help doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to say yes. -Rosemarie Montefusco

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