Every year is the Year of the Rabbit

February 3, 2011

About a month ago, people started telling me that Feb. 3 would launch the Chinese “year of the rabbit.” While I appreciate anything that promotes rabbits, I’m otherwise indifferent to all the hoopla. I’m not Chinese  and most importantly for me, every year for the past 10 has been the year of the rabbit!

In 2001, I adopted a three-year-old black Mini Lop from friends. Zsa Zsa had lived in an outdoor hutch her entire life, but she adjusted beautifully to life indoors as a free roam bunny. A lifelong dog person, I expected little from a rabbit. Her intelligence and confidence surprised me so much that I wrote an article to help educate others about how entertaining — and high-maintenance — rabbits are.

The following year, just before Easter, I offered pro bono media relations help to the local humane society. I wanted to help them publicize the fact that they had rabbits up for adoption. They were the first shelter in the city to admit and rehome rabbits (today there are three, as well as one rabbit-focused rescue).

I landed a story or two for them in the local media. That success led to organizing community events featuring Humane Society shelter rabbits, which led to strangers calling me at home for rabbit advice, which led to fostering, which led to my adopting a second rabbit (a Holland Lop named Bradley), which led to more PR, events and fostering.

Five years ago, the humane society asked me to help produce some classes for rabbit owners. I jumped at the chance to partner with them. We decided to hold one educational program per month. Although there are no dues or rules for membership, we named the venture the Pittsburgh House Rabbit Club.

The first meeting attracted 30 people, including rabbit volunteers from the two other shelters. We quickly decided to join forces and expand the meeting locations to all three facilities. Occasionally, meetings are held at other community locations as well.

Since July 2005, the Pittsburgh House Rabbit Club has produced well over 70 free seminars focused on diet, health, training, grooming, housing, toys and the ever-popular “bunny blind dates” demonstrations. Veterinarians speak several times a year on topics such as the role of diet in preventing illness, advances in dental care, emergency treatment and care of rabbits aged 7-15 years.

Our website receives emails from rabbit owners across the country. I am contacted directly several times a week with questions about rabbit care or, too often, to hear the sad news of yet another beloved pet’s passing.

In my prior work life, I managed communications for a health system. We held many free health screenings at the hospital. The logic was straightforward. We knew that if you made the trip to our hospital to get your free flu shot or to have your bone density checked and had a positive experience, you were likely to choose our hospital for services in the future.

The same concept applies to rabbit club meetings. I have seen hundreds of rabbit owners come to the shelters for the free education … and stay to volunteer and/or adopt a rabbit or two. Many – perhaps most – of these people would never have visited a shelter (certainly not all three) except to hear the club’s speakers, particularly the vets.

Plus, these animal lovers (99% of them over 21, and many over 50) were just thrilled to be in a roomful of people who “got it” about bunnies, who didn’t ask questions like does he know his name, can he walk up stairs,  and of course, does he go to the bathroom all over the house.

So yes, every year is the Year of the Rabbit for me and for the hundreds of people in the Pittsburgh House Rabbit Club database. That’s especially true for the core group of shelter volunteers I met at that first meeting, five years ago, to whom I speak several times a week about rabbit business.

As I write this, I notice that Bradley (who will turn eight soon), and his wife Lucinda Rose (age unknown; found in a field with her litter) are staring at me. That’s because the Hour of the Treat is nigh and, to them, that’s the only measure of time that matters.

Photo credit: Zsa Zsa, the rabbit who started it all.
She liked to play in the snow while I shoveled the walk (Mary Cvetan).

Filed under: pets, connected — Mary Cvetan @ 10:00 am

28 Comments »

  1. I love bunnies. We had two growing up. Yes, one was Thumper. The other was Skipper. Hey, we were kids. LOL Did all of the wrong things with them and wish now that we had someone to tell us how to take good care of them.

    Comment by Jill — February 3, 2011 @ 10:42 am

  2. Funny how buns can thump their way into your heart. God they are cute. I have a wooden “hutch” for my bunny collection – all kinds of collectible, non-poop producing bunnies that don’t interest my dogs. I used to volunteer with the House Rabbit Society. Love little buns with wiggly noses.

    Comment by Phyllis DeGioia — February 3, 2011 @ 10:55 am

  3. Yep, every year is the year of the rabbit(s) at my house too. I currently have two rescued “house” rabbits, and Mary’s Pittsburgh House Rabbit Club was inspiration for our NC Triangle House Rabbit Meetup Group, now with 96 members in the Raleigh-Durham NC area.

    Comment by Dawn — February 3, 2011 @ 11:43 am

  4. I got my rabbit over 6 years ago and was amazed to find what an intelligent, affectionate, playful creature he is. He lives in my apartment, uses a litter pan, hangs out on the couch, and has been a great great friend. It’s impossible to get anything done without having him come stick his nose in to see what’s going on. He is just so curious and eager to engage. If you are considering adding a rabbit to your life please believe me when I say they make great pets. And please read up on the facts – they need to live inside, have plenty of room to run around and play, be cared for by a responsible adult, eat a proper diet, and so on. One last note – just like dogs and cats, there are MANY rabbits available at local shelters and animal rescue organizations. Please consider adoption rather than going to a pet store or breeder!

    Comment by Phoebe — February 3, 2011 @ 11:48 am

  5. I wish I weren’t so allergic to them! But I do enjoy their antics from a far! smile…

    Comment by Liz Palika — February 3, 2011 @ 12:09 pm

  6. Forget “Year,” it’s Day of the Rabbit every day at my house, and it’s been that way for over 20 years. Obviously, I wouldn’t have it otherwise. Aside from being impossibly cute, rabbits are intelligent, loyal, and brave – more than once I’ve seen a tiny bunny stand its ground against a much larger animal, including the occasional human. I think that’s what I love most about them – they’re the world’s dinner with an attitude.

    Comment by Becky — February 3, 2011 @ 1:03 pm

  7. We’re currently down to one house rabbit, Henry, age 6. He lives in a (big)house with five people, three dogs, seven cats, three guinea pigs and two rats. Henners is a joy–always inquisitive and sociable and happy to be part of the team. Having always lived in a busy house, he is absolutely without fear (so we have to keep an eye on him ;-)). Happy Year of the Rabbit!

    Comment by Susan Wright — February 3, 2011 @ 1:56 pm

  8. Rabbits are one of the best kept secrets in the world. Intelligent, amusing, loyal – so much more than a cute little ball of fluff. My rabbits have all been adopted as adults, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. They are wonderful companions and quietly steal into your heart. There’s nothing better at the end of a stressful day than having Indy hop onto the sofa beside me and stretch out with his head against my hand. I think he knows petting and loving on him will melt the stress away.

    Comment by Linda — February 3, 2011 @ 2:11 pm

  9. I took in a bun several years ago who I saw at a friend of a friend’s house – the poor guy was in a pen in the basement and had sore hocks and open lesions and was just so terribly sad. So without really considering how little I know about rabbits, he came home with me. He changed my whole idea of rabbits, what kinds of companions they could be, what they needed, and what important and integral parts of the family they could be. I’ve never looked back, and am thrilled to introduce new folks to the quirky, loving, demanding, fun, and intelligent rabbits in our area. Although they do need a bit of housekeeping each day, they are so very worth the effort, and when looked after properly just don’t make messes outside their area. Live with rabbits is a joy, and I hope more folks discover them!

    Comment by Wolf — February 3, 2011 @ 2:14 pm

  10. Great post. Happy Year of the Rabbit, Mary! My one and only regret about having beagles is that it means I can’t really have a rabbit. I’m intrigued that Susan Wright manages it, but I couldn’t bring myself to risk it. I’m pretty sure my hounds would be VERY interested in rabbits. Here’s to buns!

    Comment by Glenye Oakford — February 3, 2011 @ 2:21 pm

  11. There’s nothing better at the end of a stressful day than having Indy hop onto the sofa beside me and stretch out with his head against my hand.

    Comment by Linda — February 3, 2011 @ 2:11 pm

    Oh Linda, you know how much I love that big old white dreamy-eyed bunny of yours!

    And the fact that he can get his big caboose up onto the furniture, despite the crippling injury to his back leg … wow! Shows what love can do.

    When I found him in that horrible, dark, cold hutch, with no water, too weak to stand, I knew it would be easy to make his life better. But I never imagined he would end up in such a PERFECT home, and through such serendipity.

    I love that rabbit. I’m so glad his son broke out of that hutch and came down the street to get me. :-)

    Comment by Mary Mary — February 3, 2011 @ 2:28 pm

  12. I too was a dog person until I adopted my first bunny over 10 years ago. Absolutely love their personalities. My better half and I were just talking about their intelligence. Our Mr. Rabbit knows that the refrigerator holds his special treats (cilantro, carrots and other green veges). He’ll sit and sit and sit and sit next to it until someone opens the door. Once done, he pokes around trying to get at the treats. He also is very aware of the sounds of the door opening, that he’ll come running from an entirely different room when I open the door. He makes my heart sing.

    Comment by Jenny MacBeth — February 3, 2011 @ 2:39 pm

  13. I love how one little bunny started such an incredible journey! I’m looking forward to learning more about rabbits from you.

    Comment by Ingrid King — February 3, 2011 @ 3:28 pm

  14. Thanks, Ingrid.

    Everytime I look at that photo of my best buddy in the snow, up there in the lights on a national website, my eyes fill with tears. It is so bittersweet how she lives on through my volunteer work.

    And kind of bewildering how that bunny has been responsible for bringing so many, many SUPER COOL people and experiences into my life.

    When my friend called that day back in 2001, out of the blue, and asked me to take the kids’ rabbit, the last thing I wanted was a pet.

    Huh.

    Comment by Mary Mary — February 3, 2011 @ 3:45 pm

  15. I adopted my first rabbit 2o years ago. I lived in an apartment and couldn’t have a dog. I was allergic to cats, so the next best option was a rabbit. She was my companion, through tough times at work, school, and my divorce. Always by my side, giving me love and constant attention when life was at its toughest. If only people knew how much personality these little guys have and how wonderful these furry little beings. I volunteer at a local shelter. When taking a rabbit to an off-site event it surprises me how many people don’t know rabbits can be litter trained, they can learn to do tricks, they’re so affectionate. Alternately, it surprises me how rabbit owners think it’s appropriate to only feed their rabbit carrots! Do people only eat fast food?!?!

    I love my bunnies, a life without them just wouldn’t be the same for me. There’s nothing like coming home and having your rabbit greet you at the door. :O)

    Comment by Lisa — February 3, 2011 @ 5:26 pm

  16. I am currently owned by four house rabbits myself and each one has such a unique and wonderful personality! Mutual companionship from free-roam bunnies is something I can’t explain; one must experience it. All my buns are litter-trained and clicker-trained. One lesson they recently taught me: do NOT leave your beads on the counter unattended. Such items must be sampled and scattered with wild abandon!

    Comment by Susan S. — February 3, 2011 @ 5:37 pm

  17. Mary-

    Thanks for the post – Zsa Zsa was adorable, and looked quite a bit better at that time than her human counterpart does now!

    She certainly started something. Thanks for the great post!

    Comment by Dr, Tony Johnson — February 3, 2011 @ 5:37 pm

  18. I become more proud of Mary every time she writes a bunny article, the next always better than the last. They say you should leave the world a better place than you found it, you should make a difference. What a job Mary has done. BUNS RULE!

    Comment by Sharon — February 3, 2011 @ 8:36 pm

  19. Mary, you have no idea how lucky I feel to have wandered into Poppa Indy’s life! He IS a dreamboat, and he makes me smile every day. He is such a wonderful bun; all my friends and co-workers have fallen in love with him too. I’m sure Indy realizes he has a fan club. Thank you so much for being there to rescue him, and giving him the care and love that made him such a dreamboat.

    Comment by Linda — February 3, 2011 @ 8:48 pm

  20. Rabbits are wonderful house pets! Their needs and care is different from cats & dogs, so it’s important to learn all you can before deciding to bring a rabbit into your home. I’ve had several pet rabbits that were liter trained and shared my home. They really do have their own individual personalities! They have each given me so much joy.

    Comment by Diane — February 3, 2011 @ 11:50 pm

  21. What a great article! My rabbit-above-all-other-rabbits, Oliver, was very impressed with it, and I had a heated debate with him about whether he or I should post a comment . . . he’s quite a character, and thinks nothing of occasionally emailing my (he thinks they are his) friends with scurrilous gossip and unbelievably bad spelling. I had to promise to tell you how much joy he’s brought me, how much he’s taught me about rabbits, how the kind of organizations and networks that Mary’s talking about have supported me and helped me with his MANY medical issues over the years, and how my life just wouldn’t be the same without him. I’d like to add (on my own behalf, at last), that I’m a dog and cat person too, and that it’s perfectly possible to raise a rabbit in mixed company as long as you follow some sensible guidelines. So if you have a dog and/or cat (or not, as the case may be), and you’re curious about rabbits, please contact your local shelter and see if they can offer you some bunny time, foster opportunities, or best of all, adoption possibilities. Who knows, you may become your area’s Mary Cvetan, and from my point of view (and Oliver’s too, of course), the more Mary Cvetans there are, the better!

    Comment by Louise — February 4, 2011 @ 2:32 pm

  22. the more Mary Cvetans there are, the better!

    Comment by Louise — February 4, 2011

    I agree!

    Comment by Gina Spadafori — February 4, 2011 @ 3:00 pm

  23. True dat.

    And so says Adora, my 14-lb Flemish giant rabbit who watches TV with me; Mamamia, my black and white quasi-English spot who can’t get enough kisses; Sophie, my Holland lop who sleeps with me; Cookie, my brown and white quasi-English spot whose right back foot was amputated because she’d been caught in a trap; and Simon, a blue mini-rex who doesn’t know the meaning of the word “fear.” Everyone of them rescues.

    The more Mary Cvetans there are the better? So say we all.

    Comment by Becky — February 5, 2011 @ 4:02 pm

  24. About 5 yrs ago.. I moved from a house into an apt. I was use to having pet (dog) but since the apt. I lived in did not allow dogs, they allowed cats (which I am allergic to) so that is when a friend of mine suggested a bunny for a pet. She put me in touch with someone who helped me adopt Baxter, he was about 11 months old when I adopted him and now 4 1/2 yrs later, he is wonderfully spoiled and has me trained ha! He brings me such joy and and is great company… he is so smart.. and my family and friends just LOVE him!! I never realized how much personality a bun can have and believe me he has a wonderful and funny personality. I couldn’t ask for a more perfect pet.. thru the years he has gotten so affectionate and LOVES attention. Every morning after I get up and let him out of his pen, he jumps up on the couch and watches me til I bring him his parsley and romaine lettuce on his own PERSONAL plate, and each time the refrigerator door opens he runs to the kitchen and waits to receive something cause he know where his carrots, and parsley and romaine lettuce is kept, ha! He has definitely stole my fiancee’ and mine hearts! Baxter is our little brown furry baby boy :)
    He loves Christmas time… because he LOVES laying under the christmas tree on the velvet tree skirt! and I mean he loves it to the point that the first yr. I had Baxter, even after all the christmas decorations was put away .. I left the tree skirt out for him to lay on for about 5 months before I had the heart to put it away too.. see who had who trained? ha!
    I love it when he gets in his cuddle moods and jumps up on the couch and cuddles with me most all evening. So if you are considering a pet… think of adopting a bunny… there are so many out there that needs homes in our shelters… take the time to educate yourself on adopting a house bunny… you won’t regret it! They are wonderful pets… don’t know what I would do with my Baxter.

    Comment by Robin McClung — February 7, 2011 @ 9:53 pm

  25. I, too, love spreading the word about what wonderful pets bunnies are. Back in the day, I used to go to county fairs and looking at all of the sweet buns, but I had no idea that I could actually have one (or more!) in my house.

    My husband, Bruce, is the one who suggested I might want a pet bunny. So, I started doing some research online. I’d never had any pets (due to allergies), but everything I read led me to believe that bunnies could be a perfect addition to my life and home.

    I found my way to Petfinder and fell in love with the picture of Eeyore at the local Animal Rescue League – such a sweet, wise face. At the time, I was recovering from a broken leg and I didn’t want to adopt until I could hop after a bunny, at least a little bit. The months went by – I kept checking his page to see if he was still there. He was six years old at the time and no one wanted to adopt him.

    Finally, the day came when I got to meet the little guy, and we took him home to be our friend. At first Eeyore was so scared of all of the new sounds – even the dishwasher. But he settled in and he trained us how to be good bunny parents. After he chewed through both sides of the “bunny” gate in our kitchen doorway, we let him be a free roaming bun.

    Soon, we got him a girl friend, Lily. She too, was from the ARL. She had been found wandering around a grimy, urban neighborhood before she was rescued. Unfortunately to this day, she’s afraid of being outside. But she certainly took to living in our little house. (She only lets me and Bruce live there because we know how to open up the refrigerator.) And unlike Eeyore, Lily is a real jumper and climber. Once she ate my W-2 form which was on the kitchen table! So, we’ve learned a lot from her, too.

    Of course, we joined the House Rabbit Club right away and soon became volunteers at the ARL. I enjoy fostering bunnies, especially the ones that are sick or neglected. I get a kick out of play Henry Higgins to all the Liza Doolittles! Bunnies are so resilient – a few weeks of good food, running around time and lots of love turn them around 100%. I joke that fostering bunnies is a lot like taking books out of the library – you love them and learn from them and then, after they’re adopted, go get a new one.

    I can’t say enough good things about adopting a shelter bunny – they all come -FREE OF CHARGE!!! – with a loving community of avid rabbit people to help you, especially if you’re new to rabbits.

    Comment by Linda K. — February 12, 2011 @ 9:30 am

  26. … Lily is a real jumper and climber. Once she ate my W-2 form which was on the kitchen table!

    Comment by Linda K. — February 12, 2011 @ 9:30 am

    Hahaha!! I had the bad habit of using the office floor for sorting papers. More than once I had to chase Zsa Zsa down the hall when she was racing merrily away with a business card in her mouth.

    Comment by Mary Mary — February 12, 2011 @ 3:52 pm

  27. Growing up I was only allowed to have a gerbil because I was allergic to cats and dogs. As an adult I found that I am NOT allergic to bunnies, and I have had them in my life ever since. They are sensitive, and in my opinion emotional animals that make wonderful loving pets for adults. I have always had great luck with litter training, and my bunnies have always had free roam of several bunny-proofed rooms in my home. You can share the same deep bond with a bunny that you can with a cat or dog. Bunnies require a little more maintenance perhaps, but they are just as capable of love and forming lasting relationships! I’m thrilled to see such a great bunny story on this site! More, please :)

    Comment by Kathy K. — February 17, 2011 @ 11:04 am

  28. I so enjoyed reading Mary’s article and I have so enjoyed reading all the comments. Bunny people are great! I love being a part of this wonderful community. I have always loved and wanted rabbits but it was not until I was an adult that I was able to fulfill that dream. My first two bunnies I loved dearly but I was not as well informed as I am now. I wish I had had the resources then that are available now. My current fur babies are well taken care of. They give my such joy. Like so many people here have said, my bunnies greet me at the door, wait anxiously by their food station when I open the fridge door (or even get up from the couch). My little Cooc lost a leg when she was two months old. Her perseverance and resilience, and fearlessness throughout her life has been an inspiration to me. I don’t know what I would do if she and all my bunnies had not come into my life. I am thankful for them every day. I feel so lucky also, to have found WPHS, the Bunny Romps, all of you, and Mary. Your knowledge, compassion, and helpfulness has made life a little better for me and my babies.
    Thank you all.

    Comment by Heidi — April 13, 2011 @ 4:31 pm

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