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Rabbit-rescue organization educates Vancouver bunny owners

Rabbits are the third-most popular pet after dogs and cats

By Ziwei Zhou and Annie Rueter , in City Feature story , on October 25, 2017

Hundreds of Vancouver rabbit lovers will hop, skip and jump to the 13th annual Rabbit Festival hosted by Vancouver Rabbit Rescue and Advocacy this weekend.

New this year is a guest speaker from the House Rabbit Society, an international rabbit-rescue organization. Information about feeding, housing and handling will be available, as well as inexpensive vet treatment. Bunnies can perform in a rabbit agility show, join an eating contest, have their photo snapped and go bunny bowling.

Rabbits are the third-most popular pet after dogs and cats, but they remain misunderstood and are often abandoned in the Vancouver area. Nearly 400 feral rabbits were rounded up from the Richmond Auto Mall from 2012 to 2017.

“The main goal is to teach people about the rabbits,” said Olga Betts, VRRA founder. “Bunnies need a lot of help. They really do. People aren’t very nice about rabbits.”

Running the organization for 14 years

Betts started VRRA in 2003 after volunteering with the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and taking in abandoned bunnies she found on University of British Columbia’s campus.

Bunnies rest happily in a two-car garage converted into rabbit housing.

She transformed her Dunbar backyard and garage into a haven for abandoned rabbits and quit her job at UBC once VRRA became financially stable. She has since dedicated her life and home to rabbit rescue. Betts took in 101 rabbits last year alone.

“In 2007, we built the two-car garage which has never seen a car,” Betts said. “Rabbits are very endearing little things. And somebody has to do it. My place is nice and easy having it here.”

Betts and her team of volunteers care for the 75 bunnies in the west-side Vancouver shelter. All of them are up for adoption. She also works to keep the non-profit afloat on an annual budget of approximately $50,000. The money comes from donations and rabbit care products she sells.

It is a full-time commitment.

“Rabbits are like having a two-year-old. You kind of have to monitor them, make sure they’re not getting into trouble,” Betts said. Rabbits also need to be fed constantly, as they are incapable of vomiting or burping and need to eat to move their bowels.

Betts isn’t the only person in Vancouver devoting her home to animal rescue.

The B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates there are 25 to 30 other animal-rescue organizations in the city operating out of people’s homes.

But real-estate costs in Vancouver limit the expansion of in-house rescue organizations like VRRA.

“Expanding it in this area would be pretty tricky as you would need millions of dollars to get a piece of land,” said Betts, who is at capacity and turning bunnies away. “You can’t save them all – I wish.”

VRRA volunteer Debbie Cook uses boxes to carry bunnies back into the garage for the night.

Educating bunny owners

For her part, Betts encourages potential bunny owners to get educated about rabbit care. She says anyone considering bunny adoption should be prepared for a 10-year commitment, have $750 in the bank for vet bills, learn about rabbits’ diets and have a schedule that allows for adequate bunny-care time.

Betts said some parents think rabbits are a good starter pet for their child to care for and cuddle with. But children tend to lose interest in rabbits because they are kept in sequestered areas of the house and don’t join the family like a cat or dog.

While Betts cannot take in every rabbit needing a home, she has helped connect abandoned bunnies with loving owners. For the adoption process, applicants fill out an extensive questionnaire and VRRA can visit an applicant’s home.

Long-time VRRA volunteer Debbie Cook adopted Wendy and Thumper, who were badly neglected and in need of lots of care, in 2002.

Rabbits typically do not like to be picked up, but Thumper allowed Cook to cuddle with him.
“Thumper just would put up with it,” Cook said. “It’s almost like they know you’re helping them.”

VRRA rabbit festival will take place Oct. 28 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. at 8886 Hudson St. Entry is by donation.

A toy rabbit sits on the wagon that will be used at the Rabbit Festival.