About two weeks ago, I sent Brooke the following (grammatically incorrect) email:
I’m starting volunteering for a rescue organization called Bunny World Foundation on Saturday! What a name! I feel like it’s going to be an underground rabbit anarchy group.
Turns out I wasn’t too far off the mark – there is a bit of rebellion going on. Although they care for and find homes for previously unloved rabbits, this isn’t your typical animal rescue organization – there’s also a huge advocacy component that intrigued me from day one. Most of BWF’s fuzzy buddies come from an area of downtown Los Angeles called Santee Alley – known primarily as a cheap shopping area in the Fashion District, this is also home to an abundance of illicit bunny trafficking.
Oh, yes – there is such a thing.
If you head down yonder, you’ll see people selling all manner of teensy weensy animals – not just rabbits, but also reptiles, puppies, kittens, and birds. Their cages are dirty, they’re underfed and underwatered, and they’re left exposed to the elements all day long. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the bunnies are marketed as coveted dwarf rabbits (people looooove tiny wittle things), but they’re actually just regular rabbits snatched from their mommas shortly after birth – and more often than not, these neglected babies (in rabbit parlance, kits) die soon after they’re bought.
Here’s why: Like most baby things, rabbits come into this world completely helpless – they can’t see, they can’t hear, and they are 110% dependent on their mothers to help them through those first months of life. They snuggle up with their siblings in a cozy nest built by their momma, and she feeds her babes twice a day.
It takes almost two weeks for kits to open their eyes, almost three weeks for them to start eating hay, and at least six weeks before they are fully weaned off of their mother’s milk – and even then, they aren’t ready to live away from their mother until they’re at least two months old. Remember – these Santee Alley buns are being sold usually a week or so after being born, and sometimes they’re only days old.
So basically – what you end up with from these illegal sales is a dead (or at the very least, incredibly sick) bunny, a sad family…and a greedy, coldhearted jerk in a dingy alley thumbing through a wad of easy cash.
This is where BWF comes in. Unlike other rabbit rescue organizations (and I was shocked to see just how many exist in Southern California), they get nearly all of their adoptable buns from Santee Alley, in cooperation with the local authorities. They have a mission to not only rehabilitate these rabbits, but also eradicate the illegal animal sales, reduce overpopulation, educate the public…and adopt these adorable buns to loving “forever homes” once they’re healthy.
When I reached out to Lejla Hadzimuratovic, President and Founder (a completely volunteer position, just like everyone else at BWF) to learn more and offer my time, she welcomed me with open arms, a bucketload of enthusiasm, and about two thousand pages of information about BWF and rabbits. I then made an appointment with Marianne Sawaya, who coordinates volunteers to take care of the BWF rabbits that live at the Pasadena Petco (the organization’s adoption headquarters), and on a Saturday night found myself chasing the white rabbit…and the brown rabbit…and the grey rabbit…
The scene was a bit hectic, but with great energy. There were people cooing at the rabbits, foster parents displaying their wares, and Marianne and Lejla coordinating adoptions and our orientation. There were bunnies snuggling, bunnies eating hay, bunnies lounging, bunnies pooping, bunnies shaking their furry little bun-buns. It was cute overload.
There were two other people waiting for volunteer training – a man named Dean and his daughter Monica, a high school freshman who attends the magnificent sounding North Hollywood Zoo Magnet School and wanted to learn more about rabbits while volunteering with BWF for class credit. In the midst of the furry chaos, she and I took turns climbing into one of the pens (turns out that contrary to what I always assumed, rabbits should never live in cages or small hutches – they need room to run around and stretch out their little bun bods) to do some bunny bonding.
Eventually Brooke showed up, fresh from a quick jaunt to Colombia (as you do), to join us in some rabbit schooling.
Over the course of the evening we learned a TON more about these guys:
- They need company – the wild variety live in colonies, so they’re instinctively social creatures and house rabbits need the same opportunity for companionship, including loads of human interaction;
- On that note, they like to have partners and will emotionally bond with other buns (Lejla is apparently the Millionaire Matchmaker of rabbits);
- They are emotionally fragile – in fact, they can die of shock / extreme fright, and oftentimes when their bunny mates die, they follow not too long afterwards (heartbreaking!);
- They are also physically fragile – they can severely injure their spines by twisting and turning too much (which is why it’s important to pick them up very carefully and hold them close to your body so they won’t kick out their legs) and they are highly susceptible to disease;
- Their diets should consist of mostly hay, supplemented by rabbit-safe food pellets, dark leafy greens, fresh herbs & the like;
- They should live indoors – rabbits with a cozy, safe, social home among people and other buns can live anywhere from 8 years upwards of 12 to 15 years, whereas their compadres who live outdoors have a scant few years on the planet!
Up until the moment I plucked the Rabbit Raiser badge from the hat, I knew very little about bunnies – in fact, I would summarize my pre-existing knowledge as: They are very soft and they poop a lot. However, I left that evening completely fascinated with these sweet, surprisingly emotional creatures, and I’m excited to learn more as I continue to read up and spend time with the little furbuns every week.
If you want to learn more, are interested in donating towards bunny care, volunteering your time, fostering, or adopting rabbits, I highly suggest you check out Bunny World Foundation. Lejla and Marianne, along with all of the foster parents I’ve met so far, have giant hearts and there aren’t enough hours in the day or dollars in the bank for them to be able to do everything they’d like to do. Please consider helping in any way that you can!
Bunny adventures to be continued…