Caloosa Belle

Don’t worry, be ‘hoppy:’ Foster house bunnies

Does anybody not love bunnies? As tiny infants we learn to love these gentle creatures. Truth be told, you could probably find a soft spot for them, even the toughest most hard boiled of us. So it might come as a surprise that there’s a rescue group for rabbits.

House rabbits, to be exact. These are strictly house pets – not the kind you might raise for food or keep in a hutch outside.

The Southwest Florida House Rabbit Rescue, out of Naples, is a core group of rabbit lovers who basically fell into rescuing these pets. Finding themselves with way too many rescued rabbits, they decided they needed to get organized. Just organized during the summer, the group is in the process of becoming a 501(c)(3) and getting insurance.

Judy Cadman with foster bunny “Cinnabunny.” (submitted photo)

As with any other pet, circumstances can change and even a wanted rabbit can find itself without a home. Often people just set them free, thinking they can make their own way in the world, but these animals are not equipped for that.

Rabbit lover Judy Cadman of LaBelle is a new member of the rescue group. She has raised house rabbits since 2005. She first got acquainted with domestic rabbits when she went to Malawi, Africa, to stay with her granddaughter while her daughter, who works for the World Bank, traveled to other areas.

She explained that caring for these animals is an “intense” undertaking, not for small children. She recommends children be at least 8-10 years old. It requires a lot of physical work and commitment. Every day, these animals need to be cleaned and groomed They are also long-lived. A healthy house rabbit can live up to about 12 years, so it’s a long term commitment.

Judy and the rescue group want to educate people, find foster homes for domestic rabbits in need and, eventually, find them good permanent homes. The organization does not have a website, but you can get more information about them on Facebook. Leaving a message there is also a good way to get in touch with them.

There is a moral benefit to adopting or fostering an animal at Southwest Florida House Rabbit Rescue rather than purchasing one from a store, but there are other advantages, too. For instance, this group knows the individual animal so they can match the personality of the animal to the family’s needs; they are already socialized and have been spayed or neutered – none of which you will get by buying a domestic rabbit from a pet store, said Jennifer Macbeth, one of the founders of Southwest Florida House Rabbit Rescue,.

Someone who takes on their first bunny needs a lot of education on their proper care, Judy said. With her, it was trial and error, she recalls, so she hopes to have a workshop in January on the care of house rabbits at the East Fort Myers library. Judy also looks forward to starting a children’s group around house rabbits.

There’s a lot new house rabbit owners need to know, Judy said, for instance:

– Don’t keep them in a cage all day. Rabbits need exercise to keep their muscle tone and bones healthy – at least 2-3 hours a day out of the cage.

– Be careful what you feed them. Their digestive system can’t handle very much protein. They eat mostly food hay and a good pellet food. Their diet should be about 80 percent hay and grasses, ten percent fresh greens and a small amount of fruit. They require a low sugar, low carb, low nutrient diet.

Forget all those Bugs Bunny cartoons. Rabbits can only eat about a quarter of a carrot. Judy’s large eight-pound bunny eats two cups of kale daily, along with about a half carrot. A smaller bunny should only get about one cup of kale.

Surprise! House rabbits can be trained. In England bunny jumping contests are popular, complete with courses and obstacles. They can even be litter trained using regular litter or even hay and newspaper, but these must be cleaned every day.

There are lots of magazines, books and on line videos on bunnies, she adds, so there are lots of places to get the information you need to do right by your bunny.

House rabbits are a lot of fun and very individual. Each has its own personality that comes out when they live with other rabbits, so they should be paired, Judy said. In a “rabbit community,” they thrive and live longer.

“They’re fascinating creatures. When you have two together you can see their dynamic, personalities,” Judy said. “If you’re going to pair rabbits,” she said, “it’s better to pair individuals from the same litter. They bond easier,” she adds.

It is also necessary to spay/neuter them. Females are prone to uterine cancer and spaying makes males spray less. Would-be rabbit owners need to know that they require an exotic pet veterinarian, which means trips to LeHigh or Fort Myers.

Amazingly, house rabbits do well around cats and dogs, but they should really be raised together, Judy said.

Rabbits are also therapeutic. “You won’t need therapy if you have rabbits,” Judy points out.

If you decide you want a rabbit, it’s better to adopt a rabbit than buy one online, she said, and remember that you need patience. It’s a long time commitment, and you really need to love animals. You can find out more about fostering house rabbits by calling Judy at 863-722-6110.

Jennifer voiced the basic creed of the group saying, “Our focus is on education, advocacy and adoption. These are social and domestic animals that do so much better when they are included as part of a family.”