This weekend I drove 600 miles for two different rabbit rescue situations. The first stop was in eastern Illinois at a rural shelter that had taken in 14 abused and neglected rabbits: abandoned, feces piled feet high in the cages, many dead rabbits surrounding them. They had been at the shelter for months awaiting the outcome of the court case and now were able to be adopted.
I am used to working with shelters in cities that house the rabbits singly, indoors, and only otherwise have dogs and cats or sometimes a guinea pig. But this shelter kept the rabbits in a barn, where there were also horses, goats, turkeys, geese, and chickens. I immediately felt at home among the wandering farm animals (not sure why) and started assessing the rabbits to see if we could help any of them.
I soon became aware of someone standing on my feet. A huge male turkey (what am I saying… how do I know turkey gender?) kept stepping on my shoes, rubbing his chest on my shins and occasionally pecking at my shoes and pants a bit. He basically stood on my feet for a good thirty minutes! He was really neat. Meanwhile a goat (I think named Elvis) kept nibbling at my coat in the back.
The rabbits were in sorry shape. Most of the males (all housed together) had been fighting. One was so injured he looked like a little Frankenstein–one eye was either missing or completely abscessed over, and his sides were a mess of wounds. Another rabbit had a fresh bloody bite wound on his rear. The rabbits were licking at the others’ injuries and trying to jockey for food and position in the small hutch.
The females were in better shape, presumably because they weren’t fighting as much. Still the Dutch looked like she might fall over, the Californian had an infected eye, and the minirex had a wound on her ear. Some of the male rabbits had white discharge from their noses, which meant even though many were friendly, I couldn’t take a chance rescuing them for our main adoption program.
I did take a beautiful Flemish Giant female. If a vet check determines she’s healthy enough, we hopefully will be able to help other rabbits from the shelter. Leaving the others behind in those conditions was really hard–I did well while I was there, but cried on the way home. None of them deserved to be stuck in a wire hutch with nothing to dig or chew, fighting, no treatment for their injuries or illnesses… the shelter was doing the best they could and in the end the rabbits were sheltered and fed, which is more than can be said for their life with the abuser. But this beautiful Flemmie is in my kitchen now, loving the indoor life with toys and heat and attention and a litterbox full of tasty, diggable hay, flopping in happiness and begging for pets. They all deserve that chance.
I’m glad I went. I gave the Flemmie a chance for a wonderful life, and arranged to have the little gray dwarf who was suffering euthanized. I’ll try to get the word out to other rescuers and maybe we can make a difference for a few more.
edit: we went back!
On Sunday I drove to the Chicago area to take in rabbits from a rescuer who has cancer and is facing an unknown future, certainly one in which she won’t be able to care for so many rabbits. Three of them came home with me to find forever homes and take a little burden off this woman.
Very emotionally draining weekend.