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“You might,” she says, “call the 4H club.”


According to statistics, says Margo DeMello, rabbits are the third-most euthanized animals in shelters across the country. Raised in Poway, DeMello is an anthropologist/author now based in New Mexico. She’s also the president and executive director of the House Rabbit Society, a nonprofit founded in 1988 that is dedicated to rescuing abandoned rabbits and educating the public about rabbit care. DeMello says that, each year (not counting humane societies or animal shelters), thousands of unwanted rabbits funnel into 30 chapters across the country and into satellite locations in locales as far-flung as Italy and Japan. When we talk by phone, she points out that, while shelter dogs and cats get the lion’s share of publicity, rabbits are the most exploited of all companion pets.

Margo DeMello, president and executive director of the House Rabbit Society

“They are eaten, slaughtered for their fur, and used in experiments,” she says. If you add the word “hunted” to this list, here in San Diego County rabbits are subject to all of the above.

Rabbit-hunting season opens in our backcountry in July; it ends on the last Sunday in January. According to the Natural History Museum checklist of mammals in San Diego County, we have three types of wild rabbits: the desert cottontail, the black-tailed jackrabbit (a type of hare), and the brush rabbit. All are genetically distinct from the strain of European hares we breed for meat, or for pets, or for show.

For non-hunters, fully dressed rabbit meat is available for sale at retail butchers, such as Iowa Meat Farms in Grantville and at Siesel’s Old Fashioned Meats. Rabbit skewers have been offered at the Tractor Room in Hillcrest; ditto for rabbit taquitos at El Take It Easy. But diners at North Park’s Linkery did without rabbit in October due to a late-summer heat wave that affected production at Taj Farms in Valley Center, their rabbit-meat supplier.

Kevin Whaley says that, in the 1970s, San Diego was considered to be number one in the country for rabbit-meat production. Whaley has been building cages for rabbit keepers (among other small-animal enthusiasts) for decades, at his Santee-based KW Cages. KW is featured in an upcoming documentary about the world of show rabbits, titled Rabbit Fever.

Over a quarter-million rabbits are used in laboratories across the country each year, says PETA, as living tests for products and medications. For example, in 2004, researchers at UC San Diego induced strokes in their lab rabbits in an attempt to study the effects of a compound thought to have potential for human stroke victims.

PETA also says that, each year, over a billion rabbits are slaughtered around the world to supply the fur industry. On Black Friday 2012, a local group calling themselves the IDA Fur Free Friday Event marched in Fashion Valley to protest the sale of animal-fur garments, items such as the rabbit vests sold at Nordstrom.

Finally, consider the rabbit’s role as cultural icon, from Bugs Bunny to Hugh Heffner’s Playboy Bunnies to the wearing of a mummified rabbit’s foot as a good-luck token and fairy tales that use the rabbit as a sort-of moral compass. In 1901, a British illustrator named Beatrix Potter wrote and published The Tale of Peter Rabbit, based in part on her own pet bunnies. It became one of the best-selling books of all time. The origin of that most famous of mismatches, Aesop’s “The Tortoise and the Hare,” a children’s classic, dates back to pre-biblical Greece. The Easter Bunny is another thing entirely.

In spring, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus along with the annual return of a rabbit figure with magical properties. In turn, some rabbit breeders ramp up springtime production because baby bunnies at Easter are to the retail pet industry what red roses are to florists on Valentine’s Day: dollar signs. Most of the rabbit advocates I spoke with for this story pointed to Easter as a prime source of eventually unwanted rabbits.

“Easter bunnies grow up,” says Shelly, a San Diego House Rabbit Society volunteer. She prefers not to publish her last name and is private about the number of rabbits she currently fosters for fear of running afoul of zoning regulations in her Spring Valley neighborhood. “When Easter bunnies grow up, they get dumped,” she says.

This is a fact of pet-bunny life that the San Diego Humane Society knows all too well, even going so far as to build a slogan-based campaign intended to dissuade the gifting of baby rabbits at Easter: “Make mine chocolate.”

My calls and emails to three area pet-rabbit breeders were not returned.


“I know whose barn your rabbit came out of,” says Paulette Sauln, the 4H county council president for San Diego. “I’m a volunteer,” she explains. “In the past, I’ve run the small-animal program.” That involves training new 4H club members in leadership and things like showmanship qualities.

She is familiar with my rabbit’s odious ear marking. The animal, she says, was bred by a 4H member in Jamul. “Then it was sold to an El Capitan high-school student. I don’t know the name of the person.” Sauln says she could probably find out if I’m interested. The El Cap student was in an agriculture class and belonged to an organization called the Future Farmers of America. Stoopid, it turns out, was part of a class requirement.

“The rabbit was shown at the Del Mar Fair in 2011 by the student. It was tattooed on the day of the show.” An ID tattoo inside an ear is a condition of showing a rabbit at the fair. “And then,” she says, “it was dumped.”

Dumped? Yes, Sauln says. Dumped. Turned loose to fend for itself. It’s a fairly common solution among students who no longer need a classroom animal or know what to do with it in that circumstance. “I’m pretty sure it was a case of a graduate going off to college.”

Are there best intentions involved — as in, possibly thinking that the domestic rabbit will enjoy living with its wild cousins?

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Comments

Lisa_Burrell March 20, 2013 @ 11:35 a.m.

I enjoyed your interesting and thorough article, and what a sweet story about you and your new pet! I can tell how comfortable you two are together, in the video. (Is she still called "Stoopid"? LOL). I grew up with a couple different bunnies in the 70s and 80s back when they did live in hutches outside and eat carrots :)... I'd have a house bunny now in a second, but I don't think my Jack Russell would take very kindly to it. (and the description of your and friends' disbelief that YOU would have a rabbit is the same feeling/reaction I went through when I agreed to a dog four years ago... but now he's the baby we never had or wanted, and brings me so much joy. I hope you enjoy your bunny roommate/pal as much! :)

~ Lisa in Orange County

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Dave Good March 21, 2013 @ 9:35 a.m.

Hi Lisa; no, she's not called Stoopid any more, and never was called that here at the house. We call her The Mouse, in deference possibly to her size: tiny. I think it's probably a wise choice not to mix a bunny with a Jack Russell!

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Margobun March 20, 2013 @ 1:57 p.m.

Thanks for the great article, Dave, for the many shout outs to House Rabbit Society, but especially for rescuing your new friend!

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Dave Good March 21, 2013 @ 9:37 a.m.

True that, Margobun. I initially went to the HSR as a "dump call." In time, they made it possible for me to understand and keep the rabbit. The experience has changed my life for the better.

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KatieS March 20, 2013 @ 6:23 p.m.

Dave, I REALLY enjoyed your article!! It was a great read! The best part for me was that you ended up keeping that sweet bunny you found. I am dying to find out what you call her now. I loved the video of you 2!! Thank you so much for calling attention not only to what great pets buns are but also to the plight that so many of them face because people don't think before getting a rabbit. Rabbits are such underrated pets. They are loving, sweet, smart and spunky!! I love my dogs, cats and horses but there will always be a very special place in my heart for my rescue bunny Fidget!

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Dave Good March 21, 2013 @ 9:38 a.m.

The Mouse: that's her new name. It kind of fits, being that she is all of two pounds.

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vaultingmama March 21, 2013 @ 2:23 a.m.

Enjoyed this article and will share on my FB page. (bunnygroomer.com) I have been rescuing for about 7 years and have about 47 bunnies right now...yikes, I know! But I find good homes for them eventually. Some I've had for 3-5 years. Others go quicker. None go fast. I do what I can..helping my local shelter and taking in the unwanted and death rowers. I rack my brain for ideas to help the situation...and have some good ideas....but no funding. Im still in debt from doing all the spay and neutering! lol But boy do I love the bunnnnnnies. I got bunny fever 7 years ago. My story is on my website up to chapter 12. I am living in chapter 300 at this point! NO time to write at this point. Blessings, vicki bunnygroomer@gmail.com www.bunnygroomer.com

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Dave Good March 21, 2013 @ 9:40 a.m.

Wow - 47 bunnies? Thanks for helping the cause!

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sddialedin March 21, 2013 @ 3:22 a.m.

I moved into my current place about a year ago. With it came a presumably dumped bunny. He lives between my open backyard (shared with other tenants) and a few other houses on my block. With a dog and cat already in my studio, bringing him indoors is not an option but we do our best to feed him and keep him from being harassed. He let me pet him for the first time last week and it kills me a little when he disappears for a day or two, but capturing him and turning him over to a shelter doesn't feel right either. Not sure what the right thing to do is except letting him live life as he currently knows it.

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Dave Good March 21, 2013 @ 9:43 a.m.

My first thought is that the bunny should be brought in to a shelter, or at least given to someone who can house it properly...for the animal's own good, really. Lots of different ways for it to get sick or be hurt while on the loose. Let me know how I can help, okay?

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thebunnyguy March 21, 2013 @ 9:29 a.m.

Thank you Dave, for this amazing article. It is a very timely reminder that rabbits are a commitment that requires special knowledge and is not an Easter gift that can be disposed of when the holiday passes. Thank you Petco Foundation for supporting our efforts to get a rabbit only shelter in San Diego and for not selling bunnies in their SoCal stores. Most of all, I want to invite the public to join us for our third annual "Make Mine Chocolate" meeting at Buccaneer Beach in Oceanside CA this Sunday at 3pm. We will be collecting donated chocolate bunnies to give to a local Abused Women's Shelter for their children. Last year we donated 34 big chocolate bunnies in the name of the San Diego House Rabbit Society. We hope to donate even more this year. If you are in the area, drop by and donate a chocolate bunny for an abused family and check out all of our pet house rabbits who will be in attendance. It is not necessary to bring a rabbit, but if you do please bring an x-pen, litter box and bowl of water for him. For more info, http://northcountybeachbunnies.shutterfly.com/

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Dave Good March 22, 2013 @ 9:05 a.m.

It's just like Patricia Mulcahy said: "small animal, big pet." To be perfectly honest, I think most people aren't intentionally abusive. I think they are doing what they think is a good job of caring for their respective pet rabbits based on the popular knowledge that is available at pet retailers and rabbit breeders and so on.

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AmandaJess March 21, 2013 @ 4:23 p.m.

I knew it was a cult! I'm a proud member then! Great article.

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meliciousbeauty March 21, 2013 @ 7:22 p.m.

I absolutely adored this article Dave! what a fantastic way to bring awareness to a topic that does not receive enough education! I am so glad that you kept this Rabbit as your own and that you took it upon yourself to do what you knew what right! Thank you for recognizing House Rabbit Society as well because they never get the full amount of credit they deserve for everything that they do! What a wonderful thing to discuss right before Easter! Thank You Again!! I felt like i went on a journey with you! As a proud owner of 2 rabbits I would not know what I would do without them...They saved me, not the other way around...I loved this article! Thanks again! From Michigan With Love, Melissa

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Dave Good March 22, 2013 @ 9 a.m.

Thanks for reading. The real credit goes to the Reader and my editor -- they recognized the story and made the decision to give it support. Yeah, the HRS team is tireless in their support, aren't they? I'd like to know more about how your rabbits saved you --

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judyperry March 25, 2013 @ 6:49 a.m.

LOVE this article Dave! I work with a small animal rescue in Newfoundland, Canada. We have about 30 rabbits in our foster care program right now. They are amazing pets, just misunderstood. I have 4 (2 bonded pairs) of my own:) I especially loved the part where you said but "they'll chew up your stuff" and her response was "Yeah, if you place importance on your stuff." That's a lesson that a lot of people can learn for sure! Thanks so much for sharing! I will share your article with our rescue family:)

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Desertdarlene March 29, 2013 @ 7:55 p.m.

Thank you so much for rescuing this rabbit! I often look after the dumped ducks at the lake and try to get them homes if I can. It's very hard, not only to catch them, but to place them. If I could take them home, I would.

I understand that some people are desperate and don't feel they have any alternatives to where they can take their pets when they move, etc. (there's no real waterfowl rescue center in this area). But, I can't believe how many people think that dumping their pet is the RIGHT thing to do. They wouldn't dump their dog at the lake, but they feel it's perfectly natural to dump a pet bunny or non-flying breed of duck there.

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maria52 March 31, 2013 @ 9:14 p.m.

Hey Dave. Just wanted to comment on your heartwarming and well-written article. . .Admittedly, I was a little reluctant to read it due to the cover picture. . .I thought it might be about those type of people that dress up as stuffed animals. "Furries" is what I think they are called. . .Anyhow, finally just out of curiosity, decided to read your piece and was duly impressed, as well as being touched by your poignant story. I had to be reminded once again: "do not judge a book by it's cover." Really beautiful story, told very well. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks!

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