Two rabbits share one of the cages at the Oakland Animal Services shelter—they hop around, sniffing, stretching out their hind legs and paws, and wagging their little tails. Then they cuddle up with each other. Meenie and Mynie are five-month-old sisters and a bonded pair; one is honey-brown with big floppy ears that hang down the side of her head and the other, with the same floppy ears, is a brown and gray calico.
Bonded pairs are not the norm for rabbits; it occurs when there’s a special connection between two who do everything together and are extremely affectionate with each other. But at animal shelters, bonded pairs are even harder to get adopted because there are two of them—and it’s already hard enough to find homes for abandoned rabbits in Oakland.
Meenie and Mynie are just two of the 31 rabbits up for adoption at the Oakland Animal Services shelter. Rabbits are the third most euthanized animal in the United States—after cats and dogs—and the third most in need of adoption. From July 2009 to July 2010, 164 rabbits were abandoned at Oakland Animal Services; right now the shelter is maxed out on its space for rabbits.
Part of the Oakland Police Department, Oakland Animal Services is both an animal control unit, which is in charge of the city’s public safety and animal welfare, and the shelter, which helps abused, neglected and abandoned animals within its facility. Once brought into the shelter, animals are taken care of by staff and volunteers. Oakland Animal Services also partners with other organizations for those animals that need extra care. For rabbits, they work with SaveABunny, which is based in Mill Valley. SaveABunny is a nonprofit that specializes in rescuing rabbits that are facing euthanasia at shelters due to health or behavior problems, as well as overcrowding.
Although SaveABunny works with 30 shelters across California, Oakland is one of its core shelters, which means that they have an especially close relationship. Oakland Animal Services contacts the group about any and all rabbits that come into the shelter with medical problems.
“Right now, Oakland has a sick rabbit that has to come out,” says Marcy Schaaf, founder of SaveABunny. “She has an abscess on her face and abscesses can be very serious.” Schaaf says the abscess could be from a bite wound or dental issue. “If she has a very serious medical problem, there’s not a lot of people who are going to want to adopt her, because it’s expensive,” Schaaf says—the care for this rabbit could cost anywhere from $700 to $2,000. Schaaf says many other shelters would automatically euthanize a rabbit in this condition, but Oakland’s will call SaveABunny to help instead.
Not only is rabbit care expensive, with average yearly vet bills of around $500, but they can also be a lot of work. The rabbits up for adoption at Oakland Animal Services are indoor rabbits, which means proofing your electrical sockets, providing litter box training and making sure you have no toxic household plants. Since they are domestic pets rather than wild animals, these rabbits are fragile, susceptible to sickness and cannot be kept outdoors.
Also, they sometimes have strong personalities and can be either overly aggressive or shy and fearful. Since rabbits are prey animals, they must be treated differently than cats or dogs, which means building trust and making a space where they feel comfortable. Contrary is common belief, not all rabbits like to be held or cuddled; as prey animals, they like to keep their feet on the ground.
This is why so many people who thought a bunny would make a great pet end up dropping their rabbits off at a shelter. “It’s a real issue to get people to care for and understand rabbits,” says Schaaf. “People misunderstand rabbits as being little kids’ pets. People go to pet stores, get a baby bunny that is usually too young, and end up with a teenage rabbit that is no longer a docile ball of fur.” When they find out it costs between $50 to $100 to spay or neuter a rabbit to make it less aggressive, they end up abandoning it, Schaaf says.
Part of the work performed by the volunteers at Oakland Animal Services is to socialize these abandoned rabbits. Everyday, volunteers take each rabbit out of their cage, and bring them to big open wood stalls outside filled with hay and toys. The volunteer goes into each stall with the rabbits and cuddles and plays with them. Some of the rabbits are shy and hide in the dark corners, while others run up to the front of the stalls to kiss the volunteers’ fingers.
One rabbit, Dusty, is especially friendly; he has spotted coffee-brown and white fur and one ear that stands straight up while the other flops down. He is allowed out of his pen and can roam around the entire rabbit courtyard. He runs up to people because he loves to be petted. His fur is different that the silky fur associated with rabbits—it’s more coarse, but still extremely soft, kind of like velvet. The volunteer who is busy taking the rabbits in and out of their pens and is in charge of cuddling the them mentions that she’ll miss Dusty when he’s adopted.
The adoption fee at Oakland Animal Services is $35 and people must fill out an Adoption Rabbit Questionnaire, which is designed to assess whether the adopter can financially and emotionally make the commitment to take care of the rabbit. This is in order to prevent people who aren’t ready for the responsibility of a pet from abandoning the animal a second time. All rabbits adopted from Oakland Animal Services come spayed, neutered and micro-chipped.
If people aren’t quite ready for adoption, they can also be part of a foster program in which rabbits recovering from an injury, or very young rabbits, are placed in homes for a set amount of time until they are ready to be adopted. People can go to Oakland Animal Services and visit some of the rabbits up for adoption, sit with them, and get to know them before deciding if they are ready to adopt.