A T-shirt advocating the spaying and neutering of rabbits is a comedic approach to a much more important issue, according to local bunny safe haven Gainesville Rabbit Rescue.
The rescue’s current T-shirt fundraising campaign, running until Nov. 18, aims to raise money for their BUNS, Bunnies United for Neuter and Spay, voucher program, which helps reduce the cost of spaying and neutering a rabbit. The program brings the cost of the procedure, usually between $120 and $300, down to about $60, according to Gainesville Rabbit Rescue Director Kathy Finelli.
The shelter is currently overwhelmed with rabbits, hosting about 100 rabbits spread out among 21 foster homes and a ‘bunny barn’ in Williston. GRR is on a mission to rescue an animal that most Gainesville residents don’t even know needs rescuing, Finelli said.
“They’re wonderful pets, they really are, but people sometimes don’t know what they’re getting into,” Finelli said. “A lot of times people will get rabbits from a flea market or a breeder and the person will tell them ‘OK, these are two boys and these are two girls’ but it’s very difficult to tell them apart because they have tiny parts. People don’t realize that they have a boy and a girl sometimes until baby bunnies appear.”
Since rabbits are able to have a new litter every 28 to 32 days, this can lead to an overabundance of surprise houseguests. Overwhelmed pet owners are often unsure of what to do with the additional baby bunnies and simply attempt to release them.
Finelli said the trend has become so common that they don’t advertise the location of the barn in Williston because it leads to people coming by without appointments and “dropping bunnies over the fence.”
Gainesville Rabbit Rescue aspires to fix the problem by advocating the necessity for spaying and neutering pet rabbits, while providing help for those who might not be able to afford the procedure.
The group is using a Booster campaign page to spread the word online, with the option to donate or preorder a shirt for $20.
As of today the GRR campaign had exceeded it’s goal of 50 shirts, with 58 ordered and $790 raised on the last day of the shirts being offered online.
GRR was founded by two University of Florida students in 1998 and does not turn away any rabbit regardless of health, age or disability. Some of the limitations the group experiences include finding enough space, finances and volunteers to take care of the current rabbits in residence.
“We’ll take in an average of maybe one or two rabbits a week and have the same number adopted,” Finelli said. “Cages only stay empty long enough to clean them and get them disinfected, and then somebody else moves in.”
The rescue also takes in rabbits from outside of the Gainesville area, with one individual from Georgia recently delivering 58 rabbits to the group. Their longest traveler is a floppy-eared friend from Indiana who was given to a rescue group after being saved from a “horrendous household” and then handed off to GRR.
When stray rabbits are taken in to the Alachua County Animal Shelter, GRR always volunteers to take the rabbit under their roof.
Dwinnie Slade, a senior office assistant with the Alachua County Animal Services, said that they normally call Gainesville Rabbit Rescue as soon as they pick up any rabbits from the area, and they are taken in by the group after a health exam and mandatory stray hold of three business days.
According to Finelli, no healthy rabbits have been euthanized in Alachua County in the last seven years, mostly due to the rescue’s swift response in taking in rabbits of any kind from anywhere.
While rescuing and finding a home for the rabbits is a top priority, they are always welcomed back to the shelter for any number of reasons.
“When the bunnies come into rescue, we make them a promise to give them lifetime care if they need it,” Finelli said. “Do we want them back? No, we want them to live a happy life in a home with a family. But if that family comes upon some issues, then that rabbit always has a place with us.”
The rescue also is heavily involved in community outreach and educating pet owners on the care of rabbits and various health issues they may face. Unspayed female rabbits run an extremely high risk of developing uterine cancer, and with survival instincts causing the rabbits to show no signs of anything being wrong, GRR wants to help prevent the problem for pet owners before it’s too late.
The combination of rescuing rabbits while advocating and helping cut the cost of spaying and neutering is not an easy one, but it’s one that they hope will lead to more aware pet owners and less bunnies that randomly appear.
“We’re not just about ‘We have rabbits, come out here and adopt,’” Finelli said. “Do we want adoptions? Absolutely, but we want people to know what they’re getting into.”