By Mary Cvetan
February 3, 2011
About a month ago, people started telling me that Feb. 3 would launch the Chinese â€œyear of the rabbit.â€ While I appreciate anything that promotes rabbits, Iâ€™m otherwise indifferent to all the hoopla. Iâ€™m not ChineseÂ 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 â€œbunny blind datesâ€ 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 petâ€™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 â€¦ and stay to volunteer and/or adopt a rabbit or two. Many â€“ perhaps most â€“ of these people would never have visited a shelter (certainly not all three) except to hear the clubâ€™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 â€œgot itâ€ about bunnies, who didnâ€™t ask questions like does he know his name, can he walk up stairs, Â 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. Thatâ€™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, thatâ€™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).