The “tail” of the state’s only rabbit-specific shelter and rescue organization
YOU HEAR THE STORIES EVERY YEAR. It’s springtime, and well-meaning parents have purchased fluffy, adorable bunnies for their children as gifts. But not long later, the children have lost interest, and the once-loved rabbits have been abandoned, relegated to lonely outdoor cages or worse. And while the familiar stories usually pop up around Easter, drawing much-needed attention to the issue, it is actually a year-round problem—and a bigger one than most people even realize.
“Domestic rabbits are dumped outside more than any other domestic animal and are the third most discarded and euthanized pet in the United States right behind dogs and cats,” explains Jennifer McGee, director of operations and chapter manager of the Georgia House Rabbit Society (GHRS), a volunteer-based, non-profit organization that is dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating and re-homing abused, abandoned and neglected domestic rabbits. “They are the most misunderstood pet, and they deserve to be represented.”
That need was the driving factor behind the development of the House Rabbit Society in 1988. In 1996, the Georgia chapter of the organization was formed. “There were plenty of dog and cat rescues but no rescues for the third companion animal: rabbits. There was a tremendous need that had to be filled,” McGee recalls. Initially, the newly formed local group worked out of foster homes, but it was able to purchase a standalone shelter in Marietta in 2005 and expand its efforts. And in December 2019, the GHRS purchased a new 6,500-square-foot facility in neighboring Kennesaw, which will allow the organization to have an even bigger impact in the community. McGee continues, “With the rise of having domestic rabbits as pets comes the demand for more of all that we do.”
A SAFE PLACE
Currently, the organization saves approximately 300 domestic rabbits per year. The rabbits are housed at the organization’s rescue center and rotated between the facility and caring foster homes until they can find their forever families.
To ensure that the rabbits go to the best homes possible, the Georgia House Rabbit Society places great emphasis on a comprehensive adoption process that includes interested families filling out an adoption application and attending the Bunny 101 Class, a two-hour workshop that costs $5 per family and teaches them how to properly care for a rabbit. Families also must speak with an adoption counselor for final approval before taking their new pet home. What’s more, the rescue center also features a boarding and grooming facility and the Hop Shop Store, where adopting families and the public-at-large can purchase “bunny-approved” food, treats and products.
“Just because a product in a pet store has a bunny on the bag, it does not mean that it is good for a bunny,” McGee explains.
EDUCATION IS KEY
Educating the public is a significant portion of the GHRS’s efforts, as well as one of the key challenges it has faced since its earliest days. “The biggest challenges then are still the biggest challenges now—the lack of education for proper rabbit care, as well as the lack of laws and rights for companion animals that sometimes include rabbits and oftentimes do not,” McGee says. “We have several educational classes a month and provide outreach programs, as well as a comprehensive website and literature.”
The organization’s educational programs cover a wide range of topics, from the proper food to feed them, where to house them and how they respond to being picked up and cuddled to how to socialize them, the kinds of exercise they need and when to have them spayed or neutered. A common myth is that domestic rabbits are low-maintenance; the GHRS addresses this myth directly and makes sure that people understand not only how much care rabbits of all ages and breeds need, but also how important it is that they receive care from veterinarians who are trained to deal with specific rabbit health problems. The life span of a rabbit is 10 to 12 years, and it is a major commitment to care for and love one.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
To date, the GHRS has saved more than 3,500 rabbits in need. With its new rescue center in Kennesaw, the Georgia House Rabbit Society looks forward to doing more than it ever has before, especially as the only rabbit-specific shelter in the state. “Our short-term goals are to get some renovations done and move into our new building so that we can save more rabbits and serve the rabbit community even better,” McGee says. “Our long-term goal is to change the sterilization act set forth by the Georgia Department of Agriculture for animal control facilities to include rabbits. We also want to get rabbits added to any county ban on the pet store sales of dogs and cats.”
As the GHRS notes, a rabbit can be a wonderful addition to a family. There are so many bunnies looking for good homes, and yours might be the perfect one. But be sure to do your research first and understand what is involved in bringing a rabbit into your life. As McGee concludes, “Rabbits are the most underserved companion animal, and we are working to change that every single day.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Georgia House Rabbit Society