“I’d like to think that, but it’s not the truth,” Sauln says. “They just don’t want it anymore.”
She is quick to differentiate between 4H kids and Future Farmers. “For the most part, the kids who let animals loose are not 4H-ers.” Sauln says that rabbits are the most numerous of the 4H small-animal projects, “because kids can have a rabbit in an apartment.” Some kids have breeding projects while others have meat projects.
Sauln would willingly be part of a solution if only she were informed that the student could no longer care for the animal. “If they’d call me,” she says, “I’d help them find [the rabbit] a home.”
“We found Moe in a plastic Target shopping bag in a parking lot.”
Patricia Mulcahy is president of the San Diego chapter of the House Rabbit Society. Mulcahy once lived on St. Thomas and worked as a sailboat captain. She moved to La Mesa in 2000 and now works as a legal secretary. She’s alert, 50-something, with a plume of frizzy hair.
Patricia Mulcahy, president of the San Diego chapter of the House Rabbit Society
The first thing a visitor encounters upon entering her home — aside from the computerized loom — is a series of wire pet barriers strategically placed to restrict her pet rabbits to certain areas and to keep them from encountering each other. Rabbits chew; rabbits fight.
The first such pet to greet a visitor is named Katie. She’s a large, reddish female of the “silk” breed. Katie is friendly and curious, with big feet and big ears. Two other rabbits, Antonio Bun-deras and Big Buns, live up a small flight of stairs, in a sitting room off the kitchen. They, and Katie, come hopping when Mulcahy raps loudly on the hardwood floor: her signal for a treat. She feeds each a special grain cookie made for rabbits.
An entire back bedroom has been given over to stacks of wire cages. This is where Mulcahy pens her foster-care rabbits. At present, all fosters — 14 of them — are outside on the covered patio, lounging in large exercise pens. They represent a fraction of House Rabbit Society bunnies awaiting adoption.
I meet Walter and Gracie first, then a small three-legged bunny named Shaggy.
“They come in sometimes with a broken leg because the owners don’t want to pay the money to take them to a vet,” Mulcahy says. “In most cases, due to a rabbit’s high level of activity, a broken leg must be amputated, because if they don’t get a chance to set correctly, infection can ensue.”
Clover, a gray-and-white Dutch male is also a “tripod,” similarly abandoned with a broken hind leg. Mulcahy lets him out of his exercise pen. He hops about the back yard at considerable speed, considering his disability, and investigates everything. “We don’t have any problem adopting out tripods,” Mulcahy says. Does she feel a twinge of sadness when they go? Not at all. “I don’t cry. I’m happy. I can’t give them all the individual love and attention they deserve.”
When Katie hops by for a visit, Mulcahy gently picks her up and plops her in my lap. She then explains how the Society’s hotline works. “We get what we call ‘dump calls’ — people trying to get rid of their pets — five to six times a week.” To solve the problem, they try to find out why a caller needs to loose the pet rabbit; in many cases, the best-case scenario is to keep it in its home.
Earlier, when I spoke with Shelly, who also volunteers as a society hotline worker, she told me, “People threaten us. They say, ‘If the shelters are full and you can’t take our rabbits, we’ll set them free.’” Shelly talks about trying to corral six black bunnies released at a Jamul stable and about following up on bunny reports on Cowles Mountain in San Carlos, another popular dumping ground.
“Domesticated rabbits can’t live in the wild,” Shelly says. “For one, there are coyotes, hawks, foxes, and raccoons. Domestic rabbits don’t know how to forage for food in the wild. I don’t think they know how to get water.” Most people are shocked to learn this. “They see wild bunnies, and they think pet bunnies will adapt. We tell them that, instead of turning them loose, [they should] advertise on Craigslist or put up flyers at their veterinarian’s office or in pet shops. We tell them to call the shelters every day to see if there are openings.”
For the record, it’s illegal to turn a pet loose anywhere within San Diego County. It’s considered Willful Abandonment, a misdemeanor offense, according to California Penal Code 597s.
How long do rabbits generally remain in a foster home such as Mulcahy’s? Walter and Gracie, Mulcahy says, have been with her for about a year. Another rabbit remained in foster for five years, or potentially half its expected lifetime. She explains that the society holds two adoption events per month. Adoption chairman Judith Pierce prequalifies prospective bunny adopters. “If they insist on keeping a rabbit outside, we won’t adopt. A rabbit is such a different animal.”
Mulcahy points out the rabbit named Moe in the lot on her patio. He’s the one that survived being abandoned in a plastic bag. Moe is two shades of brown. “He’s been sun-bleached,” Mulcahy explains, a normal condition. “At least the people that dumped him did the right thing. They left him in the parking lot in front of the Pet Emergency Hospital, and they called us.”
Author Dave Good and his rabbit
Something in my attitude is changing. It’s been a gradual turn, not anything I can time-stamp, simply a growing awareness that the found rabbit with “Stoopid” inked into its ear has indeed found a home — mine.
My friends are not amused. “You’re the only single man we know with a bunny.” I hear that a lot, and indeed, the people I meet at the House Rabbit Society, and bunny-owners elsewhere, tend to be women and children. An ex-girlfriend says, “You’re the last person I’d think of that would own a rabbit.”