Starlight Pet Talk

Beyond the Fluff: Rabbit Realities and Responsible Guardianship

February 06, 2024 Amy Castro, MA, CSP Season 2 Episode 4
Beyond the Fluff: Rabbit Realities and Responsible Guardianship
Starlight Pet Talk
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Starlight Pet Talk
Beyond the Fluff: Rabbit Realities and Responsible Guardianship
Feb 06, 2024 Season 2 Episode 4
Amy Castro, MA, CSP

Join Host Amy Castro as she interviews Marcy Berman, the compassionate force behind Save a Bunny Rabbit Rescue. Marcy sheds light on rabbit rescue, debunking myths and addressing challenges. From spaying/neutering to ethical dilemmas in 'no-kill' shelters, explore the complexities of small animal care.

Key Points:

- Marcy Berman shares stories of rescuing over 5,000 rabbits, highlighting care issues and abandonment.
- Discover the importance of spaying/neutering for rabbit welfare.
- Uncover ethical considerations in 'no-kill' shelters and challenges faced by rabbits.
- Address behavioral challenges and fostering rewards/hurdles.
- Stress the importance of educating children on pet responsibilities.

Get ready to become an advocate for these often-overlooked furry companions. 🐰✨

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT SAVE A BUNNY RESCUE go to: https://saveabunny.org/ or Follow on FB: https://www.facebook.com/SaveABunny

Send us a Text Message.

Support the Show.

Support the show: https://www.buymeacoffee.com/starlightpettalk

LISTEN & FOLLOW!
▷ Official Site: https://www.starlighpettalk.com

▶ Facebook: / starlightoutreachandrescue

▶ YouTube: -https://bit.ly/starlightsubscribe

▶ TikTok: / starlightou...

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Join Host Amy Castro as she interviews Marcy Berman, the compassionate force behind Save a Bunny Rabbit Rescue. Marcy sheds light on rabbit rescue, debunking myths and addressing challenges. From spaying/neutering to ethical dilemmas in 'no-kill' shelters, explore the complexities of small animal care.

Key Points:

- Marcy Berman shares stories of rescuing over 5,000 rabbits, highlighting care issues and abandonment.
- Discover the importance of spaying/neutering for rabbit welfare.
- Uncover ethical considerations in 'no-kill' shelters and challenges faced by rabbits.
- Address behavioral challenges and fostering rewards/hurdles.
- Stress the importance of educating children on pet responsibilities.

Get ready to become an advocate for these often-overlooked furry companions. 🐰✨

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT SAVE A BUNNY RESCUE go to: https://saveabunny.org/ or Follow on FB: https://www.facebook.com/SaveABunny

Send us a Text Message.

Support the Show.

Support the show: https://www.buymeacoffee.com/starlightpettalk

LISTEN & FOLLOW!
▷ Official Site: https://www.starlighpettalk.com

▶ Facebook: / starlightoutreachandrescue

▶ YouTube: -https://bit.ly/starlightsubscribe

▶ TikTok: / starlightou...

Amy Castro:

Are you thinking about adding a fluffy hopping pet to your family? Well, today we're going to dive into the world of bunnies as pets and we're going to learn from an expert about everything you would need to know about making a good decision about whether a bunny is the right pet for you. So stay tuned. You're listening to Starlight Pet Talk, a podcast for pet parents who want the best pet care advice from cat experts, dog trainers, veterinarians and other top pet professionals who will help you live your very best life with your pets. We also share inspiring rescue and adoption stories from people who've taken their love of pets to the next level by getting involved in animal welfare. My name is Amy Castro, and I'm the founder and president of Starlight Outreach and Rescue and a columnist for Pet Age Magazine. I've rescued thousands of animals and helped people just like you find the right pet for their family. My mission is to help pet parents learn all the ways that they can care for, live with and even have fun with their pets, so they can live their very best lives and their pets can too.

Amy Castro:

Welcome to Starlight Pet Talk. I'm your host, amy Castro, and my guest today is Marcy Berman. Marcy is the founder and executive director of Save a Bunny Rabbit Rescue, which is based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1999, while walking her dog, marcy found a domestic rabbit that had been set free, otherwise known as abandoned. 25 years later, and 5,000 rabbits saved, marcy has become an international expert on companion rabbit rescue and rehabilitation, with a special focus on trauma, abuse and neglect. Marcy says that companion rabbits are very much misunderstood, they're underrepresented and they're unprotected. They are truly the underdog. So, marcy, welcome to the show. Thank you, thanks for having me. Well, I appreciate you being here and I know in your introduction I said that your foray into bunny rescuing began with a walk, a walking the dog scenario, and tell us a little more about that. You just happened upon a bunny on the sidewalk taking a walk as well, or how did that go Well?

Marcy Berman:

I never thought I was a bunny person. I still don't even really consider myself a bunny person, but I was walking my dog and I saw a white and brown rabbit running around in the street and the only thing I knew about the bunny at that time was that the bunny was not a wild rabbit, because wild rabbits are not colored white because then they're target practice for predators. So I knew that she was. I found out she was a, she was somebody's pet, and it took me about an hour and a half to catch her. She I didn't know anything, but only experiences I had had with rabbits were not good ones, and so I had been doing some wildlife rehab with wild care and I took my dog home and I grabbed my wildlife heavy wildlife gloves and dog food because that's all I had I didn't even know what they ate and a blanket, a flashlight, and I went down and I it took me about an hour and a half to crawl under a car together, wow.

Marcy Berman:

And so I got her, and then I drove around to a guest safeway and bought all the supplies I thought I needed and of course they were garbage, because that's usually the stuff they sell at the stores. But the next day I went back and looked around to see who might have lost a rabbit and I I, this woman said, oh yeah, she's ours, but we don't want her. You can have her. And I had offered her 20 bucks. I'm like I'll give you 20 bucks for the bunny. She's like you can just have her. We don't want her.

Amy Castro:

Wow.

Marcy Berman:

And so that started the whole lifetime achievement award for bunny rescue, I guess. And so she was an amazing teacher and I guess it was meant to be. It's not something I ever would have picked for myself, and she she was so much smarter and so much more sentient and opinionated and loving, and just everything about her opened my eyes to how unique rabbits were. I had no clue. I thought they were these cute but not very bright animals that lived in a hutch in the backyard and that was about it, and they were dumb and I hate to say that, but that was really where I started.

Marcy Berman:

And so she was just an amazing, amazing being and she wasn't with us that long. She was only with me for about six months because the pet sitter that I had hired, despite leaving really specific instructions, did not follow my instructions, and there's certain health issues with rabbits that you have to be very careful about. They're much more work than a cat or a dog, and most people don't think that, and so the rabbit passed away from a digestive problem. So that was a big lesson I learned, and then I make sure that everybody understands is that rabbits really require some extra care. So that's how it all started. Now it's been over 5,000 rabbits later.

Amy Castro:

And I wild.

Marcy Berman:

And I mean rabbit rescue is not like breeding in my house of 5,000 rabbits, of course, because everybody here gets spayed and neutered. But that's how it started. That's great.

Amy Castro:

That's great. So you know, it's not to say that we don't see. I mean I do rescue as well, mostly cats and dogs, and I've got the occasional pony or donkey. That that's here. But why is it? Do you think that people think that it's just okay to let your bunny go, like, like they're disposable or something? I think it?

Marcy Berman:

has. I think there's a whole number of layers to that. I think it starts in that society itself, including the animal community, doesn't view rabbits as being as deserving or worthy as cats and dogs, so they do view them as disposable. That's how society does, that's how a lot of the shelters, especially the no kill shelters, view rabbits is. They're sort of disposable, and so I think people also misunderstand. Rupert's getting a little fussy, yeah.

Amy Castro:

For those of you who are lucky enough to be watching this on YouTube, you can see that Marcy is holding a bunny. That is so darn cute that he doesn't even look real. To me he looks like a stuffed animal and it just makes me wonder, like I can't imagine just setting him out to be predator bait, Because that's basically what you're doing, I mean, unless somebody luckily comes along like you did and catches them or goes through all that trouble.

Marcy Berman:

I think a lot of people misunderstand that companion rabbits, these domestic rabbits, are non-native. They are not related to jackrabbits and cock-and-tails, they can't even in a breed, and so people think that you take a rabbit and you set them free and they're just going to go and be fine and they'll usually starve to death or get picked off by a predator. So they are not the same as our wild rabbits. They are descendants of European rabbits who were brought over hundreds of years ago. So that's, I think, a big misperception.

Amy Castro:

Yeah, I hope everybody who's ever thought about doing that with their bunny now listens to that and hears that. I could understand how somebody might think, oh well, I see bunnies outside, so why can't my bunny go outside? I mean, I would never do it, ignorant or not. It's just not the right thing to do. But I could kind of see where their logic might come from. As far as I mean, obviously you've got a bunny rescue, you've rescued 5,000 bunnies. I mean, how big of a bunny rescue, bunny abandonment issue is it? What would you say as far as bunnies that are in rescues and shelters across the US right now?

Marcy Berman:

Well, it's hard to track because I know what I see and I know what my colleagues see in the shelters. But one of the issues is that rabbits fall in this gray area where a farm animal people don't track them and dog and cat agencies don't track them. So at many shelters the euthanasia statistics and the intake statistics are dog, cat, other, which is also kind of revealing about what our society views as worthwhile companion animals or worthwhile animals to begin with. So rabbits get classified in with the snakes and the pigeons and the guinea pigs and the mice and everyone else, and they're also equally worthy of being tracked Right.

Marcy Berman:

I've had to push to get a lot of the shelters to track rabbits and I give kudos to San Francisco animal care and control owner park.

Marcy Berman:

You know some of the marine humane site.

Marcy Berman:

They track their rabbits, but at most shelters they don't, and at a lot of shelters they don't even charge an adoption fee for a rabbit, which is ridiculous, and they don't spay and neuter, which, when you think about any animal that really ought to get spayed or neutered before they get adopted, it should be a rabbit.

Marcy Berman:

And so there's been legislation to make sure that animals in California are fixed before they go out to adoption, but they excluded rabbits and, and so a lot of times some of the shelters that take in rabbits, they're so eager to get them out of their system that they just either adopt them out for free or they really don't screen. And so you know this is such a big topic that I go on forever about this, and part of it is I place a lot of Responsibility on the no kill movement for some of this, because no kill sounds great, except that it really does mean no killing an adoptable animal, and adoptable is very vague, and so for places that are privately run that find rabbits to be problematic, they're harder to place. You can't make any money off of rabbit Licensing and rabbit training, even though they can't be trained.

Marcy Berman:

The shelters can make money off of things like that, and they don't with rabbits, and so no kill Only includes usually adoptable cats and dogs. So rabbits get Left behind. They get left behind everywhere. They get left behind by the farm animal movements that left them out of prop two years ago about caging. They said, oh well, we'll come back for them, and then nobody did. And they get left out of legislation about fur, even with AB 44 in California, rabbits were used as a bargaining chip by some of the bigger agencies to say look, if you pass this legislation to protect against fur, animals will back off on Rabbits because there's a big rabbit meat and rabbit fur lobby in California, and so we ended up being one of the only groups that stood up for rabbits and it's really frustrating. So it's hard to get a lot of change for them if the people that we would hope would stand behind rabbits Are not there. Some yeah some are.

Marcy Berman:

But there's a big push for dog and cat food made out of rabbit meat Because it's a marketing. You know, lean protein it's a lot of BS, honestly, because we've done a lot of research on hot and cold diets and we've approached places like pet food express to ask them Not to sell it or to sell it only a special order, and they basically said they make more money Selling it, then they would if we ask people not to shop there. So it's a big problem where rabbits just nobody wants to deal with it and they're?

Marcy Berman:

They're kind of where cats used to be, maybe 50 years ago, where cats were this misunderstood, let them live outside, figure out their own lives, and so rabbits are way behind, yeah, in that, and I think people are afraid of them sometimes because a lot of people grew up with these rabbits that were outside, that were not fixed, that were probably really cranky, and so they.

Marcy Berman:

I didn't have good experiences, so they don't really understand how much rabbit medicine and rabbit behavior is is Moving into a more, much more modern time. By the way, before I go any further, I want to say that what I'm doing with Rupert, holding him here, is with his permission. He is a prey animal, I am a predator, and so I'm doing what I usually don't do. I usually don't sit and hold a rabbit in front of people because I don't want them to expect that they are going to Be able to do that with a prey animal and it's a matter of trust and he's being trained to be an ambassador. Bunny, see, if he likes that kind of work, then he doesn't have to do it. But I don't want people to expect to be able to walk around and hold a rabbit, because it's it's a gift that they give us, and it shouldn't be an expectation.

Amy Castro:

I Well, you made several, several good points. I want to hit on that for just a second, because I've run into that issue and I think a lot of it goes back to just understanding not only the behavior of the species, of whatever the animal is, and not expecting it to comply with our needs we're supposed to be meeting their needs but also to realize too and I've run into this with little dogs before where agencies won't adopt out a little dog because maybe they get a little nippy with strangers If a stranger tries to pick them up and it's like, well, if you think about it from the dog's perspective or from the bunny's perspective, they're kind of helpless and so they just get ripped off the ground by whomever and flung hither and yawn and it's like you wouldn't do that to a German shepherd. What makes you think that that's OK to do it to a little dog or to a bunny? Like you said, it's something that comes with getting to know the animal, building that trust, making the animal feel safe and within their limits. When he's decided it's done, you put him down. You don't force him to endure. And I don't really understand why people feel like they need to impose so much of their behavior on small animals. And then I also wanted to just jump back too, before we get too far ahead is the whole, because now I want to call my shelters and see as far as the way that the numbers get counted you're right, it's dogs euthanized, cats euthanized, and then I know wildlife got counted. But yeah, where does? If a bunny had to be, or a bird or whatever it might be, did it even get counted? And that's something that people should know.

Amy Castro:

And I have a lot of issues personally with the whole no kill thing. The concept is awesome, but the way that it's being implemented has a lot of problems and that's a whole episode for another show. But you're so right and I think people need to hear that again that no kill doesn't mean things don't get euthanized. No kill basically means whatever they want to define it. As for a lot of organizations, like, at one point one of the groups that I was working with didn't count wildlife as things that they euthanized and it's like, well, why shouldn't that count? It's sort of a shell game, you know. It's like they can make it what they want to make it based on what they include. Don't include what parameters they put in. Well, you know whether it's healthy. Who defines that, whether it's behaviorally appropriate, who defines that? Do they even know what they're doing? So I have a lot of issues with no kill.

Amy Castro:

And then I also wanted to make a point too about what you said about spaying, neuter. And not only is it so important, I think, from the standpoint of bunnies having lots of bunny babies, but most people don't know how to sex a bunny. They don't even have a clue, and it's not an easy thing to. It's not as obvious as a dog, let's say, let's just put it that way. And so you know, a person gets a bunny home, has no idea whether it's spayed or neutered, or knows for a fact it's not. Somebody told him it was a girl. So they get another girl and lo and behold, it's not another girl. And now they've got bunnies. You know, I bet you, that happens a lot.

Marcy Berman:

Well, the people ask me about Easter time. And is Easter terrible? And Easter, you know, has the potential to really bring in people, to educate them. But what happens is and it amazes me that it happens every single year You'd think it would not happen, but you would think it would. It would not happen all the time. But people go and they get the two girls that the pet store or the breeder is so sure that they are two girls and they're hard to sex. Rabbits are hard to sex when they're under about seven to eight weeks. Now, most of the time it's illegal to sell an animal or adopt an animal out who is unweaned. However, rabbits get placed way too young because people want little, which is also a whole other thing. You really don't want little, you want big. You want a big, mellow bunny, but so they want to get these bunnies sold or placed while they're little.

Marcy Berman:

And they're really not weaned until they're about seven to eight weeks old, and a lot of times you'll see them being offered up at three to four weeks old, which is terrible. It's terrible, but again, they're not protected, and so when you get animals that young, they never, especially rabbits they don't get enough of the proper nutrition.

Marcy Berman:

And they don't get the healthy bacteria that they need from the mother's milk, and so they grow up with problems. They grow up with digestive problems, and they're just not as healthy as they should be. So what happens is is, at Easter, people go out and they get two baby bunnies for their kids or their girlfriend or whatever.

Marcy Berman:

And then rabbits become teenagers at about three months old and it's very easy to sex a male rabbit once their testicles descend, because you'll probably end up cutting this out, but they are very well endowed. Ok, you cannot miss what's going on down there if you know what you're looking for.

Amy Castro:

OK.

Marcy Berman:

And so as soon as the testicles descended, around three months, the males are fertile, and so they're also fertile for a month after you neuter them.

Amy Castro:

Oh, wow.

Marcy Berman:

So what happens is is that people go out. They might neuter their male, maybe not, but the males start I mean the males and females start to become dominant and humpy and things like that, because they're teenagers and so the girls usually can get fixed around four to five months old. But you get teenage rabbits who are really acting up or breeding right around Christmas time. So the Easter bunnies end up dumped at the shelters at Christmas and there's a lot of unwanted litters. There's a lot of teenage rabbits that were these very sweet baby bunnies that have turned into little teenage monsters who are hormonal and they're acting like a rabbit should be at a teenager and they must get fixed.

Marcy Berman:

Now, another thing with rabbits getting altered is that a lot of vets won't see rabbits because rabbits need special anesthesia. So the Bay Area we have a lot of really good doctors but say you're in the middle of nowhere, there are not vets that know how to do this and rabbits are fragile under anesthesia.

Marcy Berman:

And so they don't want to spay and neuter the rabbits because they think the rabbits going to die. So they end up not fixing the rabbits and sending them out intact. We've had rabbits come in from shelters that have been there left with another male that give birth from being in a shelter, intact with each other, and that's just creating more the same problem. But if you get your free rabbit on Craig's list and then you want to go get her fixed at a private vet, it's going to cost you between 600 to 1000 bucks to get your bunny fixed because of the anesthesia. There are no grants, there's no freebies, there's nothing out there for rabbits. So we get them fixed through our veterinarians and it's not quite as expensive as that and a lot of the better shelters, spay and neuter.

Marcy Berman:

But, someone who gets their free rabbit off of Craig's list is not going to go spend that amount of money and then if you don't fix your rabbit especially the females they have an 80% chance of getting cancer by the time there's three. So we see a lot of rabbits who end up in the shelters, who are five or six years old, that were dumped by people and when we get them in to get spayed they have masses. They have uterine masses or mammary masses or something, and then we get them out and then they have a 50-50 chance. But it's really sad and all of this is preventable if you go to a rescue to get your rabbit and you get a little bit educated before you go out and get a pet.

Marcy Berman:

I try to remind people that rabbits are very similar to horses. So horses require a lot of money, expert care and they're not easy, and so rabbits and horses are actually more similar in a lot of ways than rabbits, cats and dogs, because both rabbits and horses are prey, they have similar digestive systems. Whereas horses might get colic, rabbits will get bloat. Rabbits' teeth grow throughout their whole life. So there's a lot of urban myths that you have to cut the rabbit's teeth and you don't. You absolutely do not want to do that. Some of the rabbits that are fancy breeds end up with bad teeth because they're made to look a certain way. They smush the face in, they flop the ears. You know, floppy-ear rabbits are not natural, they're man-made.

Amy Castro:

Right.

Marcy Berman:

A prey animal is made with floppy ears, where they can't see and they can't hear.

Marcy Berman:

But rabbits are not a basic starter pet at all and they're not great for kids either, and I really wish that this is. One of my biggest wishes is that other groups that work with other animals would step up and help, because it's really asking too much of a couple of small rabbit rescue groups to educate the whole world about rabbit care. Yeah, and there's just not the resources. There aren't grants, there aren't. You know, there's no Maddie's fund, there's nothing other than individual donors. It's just very hard to get the word out about them.

Amy Castro:

Well, and I know we I mean that's one of the reasons we're doing this podcast is not just this episode per se, but the whole podcast itself is all about education to get pets good homes and keep pets in good homes.

Amy Castro:

And I think you know it's so important that people hear what you said, because I think so many people do think that bunnies are a starter pet and they're not.

Amy Castro:

If you're doing it right and I think that's the key, you know the expense and the care is all about giving the proper care for the animal. We just did an episode on the five welfare needs of animals, just in general, and the fact that people really need to educate themselves. I mean there's plenty of information you can find if you're looking for it proper information about bunnies and what's the appropriate habitat, what's the appropriate diet, why it's so important to spay and neuter them, et cetera, et cetera. And people just need to educate themselves and not do this spontaneous. And I'll be the first one to admit I did it when my and it wasn't really for my daughter, it was really more for me as an animal person, but I was coming out of a Kmart because I was getting my daughter's baby pictures. This is 30 years ago, Okay, and getting her baby pictures or it probably was an Easter picture or something done, because she was born in March and there was a guy with a pickup truck and he had a crate full of bunnies.

Marcy Berman:

And when I say full of bunnies, I'm talking about Don't, don't, don't, tell me yeah, because I already know yeah.

Amy Castro:

So I felt so bad for the bunnies, especially one that was on the very bottom of the stack, that I just basically bought him right there on the spot, had not planned, and I'm an experienced animal care person and I'd worked for a vet for eight years, so I, you know, I knew some of the basics, but I certainly didn't know all of what needed to be involved and I also didn't realize how long bunnies live. That bunny, I think the bunny well, let's put it this way it lived long enough that I want to say it was over 10 years that it lived. I mean, it was a long, a long commitment and a lot of things that you have to do to make their life worthwhile for them to live. And living in a hutch or you know, or in a fish tank in somebody's bedroom is not a life for a bunny rabbit.

Marcy Berman:

Now it's terrible. And then also there's a lot of really bad information out there about bunnies. And if you really want to learn about rabbit care and I would bet you to some extent that this is and I'm just putting it out there, it's probably similar with other rescue groups is, if you really want to know the most accurate information, the most modern, the most cost-effective is to look at a rescue group, a good rescue group's website, not a breeder website, because breeder's, their whole philosophy is different. There's this about what the rabbit looks like and how to keep the coat shiny and what the show quality is and all that kind of stuff, and it's very. A lot of it is very old fashioned for age is really old fashioned.

Marcy Berman:

It's an agricultural group. They have meat pan rabbits, they have meat rabbits. So these agricultural groups and these breeders put out bad information. Plus, there's bad information out on the. You know the internet anyway for stuff. It's almost like if you were to go on the internet and you said, how do I parent my child? You would get a million different things and some of them are good and some of them aren't. But the what the rescue?

Amy Castro:

Yeah, you really want to know the source and the legitimacy of the source.

Marcy Berman:

Right. So the rescues are trying to deal with medical issues, behavioral issues for the least expensive way they can and the longest lasting. I have several volunteers who've had rabbits that live to be over 16. I have a 15 year old rabbit who's here and they can live a really long time. And so you want to be prepared for that. Financially, space wise, emotionally, you need to know you're getting into a major commitment, and so when we have people coming looking to adopt a rabbit for a child, we want to make sure that the parent is really into this, and so if they're not, then foster homes are a great option, because that helps us free up space to rescue other rabbits and then people have a good experience. We also will select the fosters, so we will put in bunnies that are harder to place or shy or they need something. So it's a win-win that they foster and then they're not in it for 10 to 15 years and that's fine, but it does.

Marcy Berman:

It is a problem when people get their kid a bunny and their kid is 16 or whatever, and the bunny gets dumped at an older age at a shelter. They grieve. People don't understand how emotionally complex rabbits are. They're very, very sensitive and emotionally intuitive. So it's hard on them when they get dumped and they do grieve, and they can grieve to death when they lose their friend or they're dumped at a shelter somewhere and feel abandoned. Oh, you know, I was going to mention something. One of the things that I try to do when I'm talking about rabbits you'll probably notice this is that I always say he or she, even if I don't know the sexes. I won't use the word it only because I want to avoid somebody looking at a rabbit as a it.

Amy Castro:

We've talked about some of the challenges, obviously, in caring for bunnies, and that they do require a significant amount of care and understanding and education. What makes all that worth it? Why do you feel like bunnies are such great companions?

Marcy Berman:

Well, I think they're great companions for the right home. Okay, they're not great companions for everyone.

Amy Castro:

That's a good point is that they're not for everybody, but let's say, for the person that's done their homework on and knowing how to provide for their needs. What are the benefits and what are the challenges of having a bunny as a pet?

Marcy Berman:

Well, there's a lot of benefits and challenges. The benefits are that they're incredibly smart, much more than you would think and actually the closest media representation for a rabbit is actually Buds Bunny. That is really pretty accurate.

Marcy Berman:

They are naughty. That's why you have to have a sense of humor, because they just can't help themselves. They're really curious. Once they put their mind on a project, they are fixated on that project, which means say, they want to get in a room of your house that you don't want them in. They will watch you and wait until you go away and then they will find a way in. They are just very persistent. They're funny. What I love about them is that and I kind of relate to this is that they are a mix between being very vulnerable, misunderstood and also incredibly brave and little. I relate to that.

Marcy Berman:

But they will stand up for themselves. You'll see a little two or three pound rabbit. This little guy, malcolm, is about a little over three and a half pounds, but a rabbit will stand up against the dog. I mean you don't want to put him in a bad situation, obviously, because they'll lose, but I have lived with rabbits and dogs and cats altogether and the rabbit is almost always the boss. You have to be careful introducing predators and prey animals, but rabbits they're just funny. They can be clicker trained. They, when they're spayed and neutered, they use a litter box just like a cat, so they're clean. They're herbivores, so their poop doesn't smell. You can throw it in the garden and helps your roses.

Marcy Berman:

Their food doesn't smell. They eat mostly hay and some rabbit pellets and fresh greens like cilantro and parsley and dandelion greens, and so they're a nice clean animal to have around. So your house doesn't smell like cat food, cat poop. You know it's not the best smell out there.

Amy Castro:

No, it is not.

Marcy Berman:

No, and they're very loving. They're very, very loving. But, again, you have to win them over to some extent Because they're prey. You have to build trust with them Like this. Takes a lot of trust for this guy to let me sit here and hold him like this while I'm busy doing other things, and so I think it's important for people who want to live with the rabbits understand that you have to work around a rabbit's needs and interact with them on their level. When I go to a shelter to rescue, where I go on some rescue to triage, I always lower my energy a lot and I basically energy flash and say here I am, you can read me, I'm not gonna harm you, you're in control, you let me know when you're ready to come forward. And they do, and that's how I can see when they are moving out of a trauma cycle as well, because they're very, very good communicators. You just have to understand their language, but they're really clear.

Amy Castro:

Let me time you out for one second, Because the bunny I think the bunny's rubbing on your microphone, so I'm getting a lot of Shhh, that's probably me, that's probably me.

Marcy Berman:

And I was sitting there trying to move the cord because if I was a rabbit person and I was looking at this, I'd be thinking that cord is gonna go in just a second. So that's also one of the challenges with bunnies is you do need to bunny proof, because they're curious. They can't tell what's safe and what's not safe. So if you have plants in your house that are toxic, they don't know and they will get poisoned, they will chew your wires, and so you have to really move the wires out of the way. You can't just cover them. You have to bunny proof and you have to work around the rabbit. So say, for example, the bunny decides that they really wanna dig at the carpet in one corner of your room, you're basically gonna have to work around the rabbit and put a brick there, Because other than that, the rabbit is now forever fixated on that corner, and that's fine, you know that's fine.

Amy Castro:

Because digging is a natural behavior for them and they need an outlet for that.

Marcy Berman:

Digging and chewing and they can be destructive. So they don't have to have your whole house, but they at least have to have a room to run around and play. No outdoor time. There's two fatal diseases that are relatively new, that even when we all grew up with bunnies outside it's no longer safe. There's a RHDV, which was manmade to kill the wild rabbit population overseas, and it is almost 100% fatal and so it is found in the United States. There's been outbreaks of it in other countries and it's a horrible, horrible way for them to go. There is a vaccine, but again, if you're getting your free rabbit off of Craigslist or a pet store or a breeder, they're not gonna vaccinate and it's a yearly vaccination.

Marcy Berman:

And then there's myxomatosis, which is carried by mosquitoes, and for example, there's a place called Tilden Park out here in Berkeley and they had a petting zoo with rabbits out there and they died because they got myxomatosis. So that's another challenge for some people is rabbits cannot go outside.

Amy Castro:

Yeah, I was gonna ask you about that because I thought not everybody wants to necessarily turn over a room, because that's what I've done with my rescue birds. They've taken over my office. They've got a giant it's actually a catio for cats that I have for the birds so that because I couldn't find a bird cage big enough for the times where I need them to not be pecking at my earrings or whatever the case may be. But for the most part they have free run of that room. But even that, I still feel sort of bad about keeping them inside. You have to. I guess you have to balance that out. Keeping the bunnies indoors versus the risk of disease is just not worth it.

Marcy Berman:

Right. And also, if you're adopting a rabbit, they should become an integral part of the family, so they shouldn't be stored away in a garage or in a cage. Most of the time. There's no point in adopting a rabbit.

Amy Castro:

Yeah, it's like, why have a pet if you're gonna do that?

Marcy Berman:

Yeah, they have a pet in a cage, so having them out while you're watching TV and they'll jump up on the sofa with you. I watch movies occasionally with bunnies. You know they have to be considered as integral, a member of the family, as a beloved cat or dog. They're not a caged animal. We were talking earlier about starter pets and I just am a firm believer that no animal is a starter pet.

Amy Castro:

I agree.

Marcy Berman:

You know I mean, I know that's easy for me to say, but sometimes when people can't make a 10 or 15 year commitment to a rabbit and they're a good home, then rats make a great they are great pets.

Marcy Berman:

But you have to be really in it for the long haul Right and they're expensive to do it right. Their vet care can be expensive. There is one company that does insurance nationwide does insurance but you need to be prepared Like we had a bunny that just came out of surgery for liver lobe torsion. So the liver lobe twists and for us it was a $2,500 surgery. For the general public it's probably five, six thousand, you say twice as much yeah.

Marcy Berman:

Twice as much. We don't always get that much of a discount, but that one we did, and you don't want to be in a position of having to make your decisions based on finances, so yeah, we did a whole episode on pet insurance before the holidays.

Amy Castro:

Yeah, and that was yeah.

Marcy Berman:

Make a trust fund for your rabbit every month. Put some money in there so that when it does happen cause it will happen at some point that they may need to go to the emergency room or something like that then you're prepared.

Amy Castro:

Right, yeah, and I think that's good advice for all pets and I think it is so important that people look at I feel like I'm preaching the preach that I always preach.

Amy Castro:

But it's like the right fit pet for you, not just I want. When I saw well, this bunny is obviously adorable as well, but the other, the floofy bunny you start thinking, oh, I really want one of those. And it's like, no, I really don't. You know, it's like it's not for me, the way that my life is now, and I think people need to think about that. They need to think about what their life is like, what their environment is like, what their budget is like, how long of a commitment they're willing to make. And if more people did that, we wouldn't have so many bunnies and other critters in shelters and rescues because they give them up and that kind of ties to my next question I wanted to ask is what you know and you? I think you've given us some hints as to some of the reasons why people might give up bunnies, but is that the destruction, the mischievousness? What are some of the common reasons that you hear from people?

Marcy Berman:

It's rarely the destructiveness, unless you got a bunny from a pet store or some place that didn't tell you.

Marcy Berman:

But we don't even do same-day adoptions, so we are very careful about who we adopt to. I think that they end up a lot of times in the shelters for a variety of reasons Kids getting the bunny for kids, and then the kids. Kids expect a rabbit to be like a stuffed animal, and while Malcolm is letting me hold him, he's just really a good boy. I'm picking a rabbit that I know likes this. Yeah, because I know him already Right.

Marcy Berman:

But, if somebody goes and gets a bunny as a little baby and the baby doesn't know any better and lets you hold him or her, and then all of a sudden is a teenager, the rabbit is now considered mean by people. So their little baby has become a teenage rabbit and they get dumped at the shelters. And people, as I mentioned earlier, don't want to pay to get the rabbit fixed. I think that they don't understand rabbit behavior and they'll often think that a rabbit is boring because the rabbit won't play with them. And rabbits play in ways that prey animals play. They are not going to. I mean you can train them to retreat. They are smart. You can click or train them to do all sorts of things, but rabbits play by running and digging and dancing and weaving and bobbing and that's how they play.

Marcy Berman:

So if you're expecting a rabbit to sit there quietly by your side. They can do that if they feel like it, but it's really up to them. I think people don't realize how much work is involved. Also, one thing that really, I have to be honest, it really pisses me off is people write all the time that they're moving and they can't take their rabbit.

Amy Castro:

Yeah.

Marcy Berman:

Like well, why don't you move somewhere else, unless it's a crisis, like we do help domestic violence, situations will temporarily hold on to a rabbit for somebody, free until they can get themselves settled, but find a place that accepts pets. They're your family. Yeah, they're your family member.

Amy Castro:

And we hear that every day with dogs and cats and sometimes you, just you know, and there are apartment complexes that don't allow, or landlords if you're renting a house, or whatever that don't allow pets. How hard did you look? As always, mike, I don't ask this because it's moot. At that point they haven't done it and they're already moving in. I'm moving and I can't take it with me. Whatever, you just don't want to. You don't want to deal with the hassle.

Marcy Berman:

You're nice, you don't say anything, I do my. My inner New Yorker comes out occasionally because I feel like people and I know it's judgy, but but let's, let's all be honest about why you're not taking your animal, because I think people sometimes feel like well I, I left them with a rescue, so I'm not culpable anymore for anything.

Amy Castro:

Right.

Marcy Berman:

You know, it's this rescue's responsibility to care for my animal who's now feeling abandoned. Like Malcolm was a family pet. I don't know what happened to him, but he got dumped in a shelter, and so if you work hard enough, you can find a place that takes animals. You just might not have it be exactly your first pick, but what's more important to you, if you really love your animals a family member then you know I know people who've gone to great lengths to move overseas. I moved cross country with animals, including an iguana, in the car, you know, and you you can do it if you really want to.

Amy Castro:

Yeah, yeah, and I think that's basically what they're saying is that they don't want to and they don't want to, they don't want to admit that, and I think they don't have that level of commitment to the pet, whether it's they don't, you know, they don't.

Marcy Berman:

And so we also have a clause in our contract that if you don't want your rabbit for any reason, the rabbit must come back here.

Amy Castro:

Yeah, we do. You may not have the same rabbit on your own.

Marcy Berman:

Now I'm not saying we're always super happy about that, because we expect people. We really try to screen people and most of the time it's great. But sometimes we get disappointed. But the rabbit must come back here because we want to make sure that the rabbit has a safe home for the rest of his or her life and not passed around person to person. And then and then occasionally we get that somebody's I know you'll laugh at this. Somebody's boyfriend doesn't like the rabbit anymore. They have a new partner.

Amy Castro:

Yeah.

Marcy Berman:

The partner doesn't like the rabbit and so the rabbit gets dumped and you know, all I can say is, boy, you're seeing, you're seeing this partner at his or her best and if they're asking you to get rid of your pet, we're talking some control issues here. So you know you're not asking for my romantic advice, but there's a problem, no problem there. So that's a lot of the reasons, the expense. We have a lot. We specialize in trauma, abuse, neglect. Also medical rescues. People do end up not being able to afford the care that they need to do, especially for a fancy breed rabbit like a dwarf or a lop, where they're genetically engineered and that causes health problems.

Marcy Berman:

It's like a pug that ends up having a lot of health problems, and so you can be looking at thousands and thousands of dollars. Those are the main reasons. You know that I think people, people give up on their rabbits.

Amy Castro:

Yeah, If somebody heard all of this and they're still thinking I do want a bunny, but maybe I don't want to make that lifetime commitment because I want to be sure first Can they foster a bunny, Is that a good way to get Okay? It's really really helpful.

Marcy Berman:

I'll give you an example I'm sorry about the phone.

Marcy Berman:

I had an Instacart driver and she and I struck up a conversation because there was, you know, a rabbit sign out there and she ended up coming over this weekend with her partner and they're going to probably end up fostering a rabbit because this is a first time rabbit experience for them.

Marcy Berman:

And so there's certain rabbits that are good for fosters and there's certain rabbits that are going to be a better fit for first timers than other rabbits. And so the advantage of fostering is that, especially with a group that really knows their rabbits, who wants to make the right fit, not eager to just get animals out the door, but really wants the experience to be good for the human and the rabbit, is that we supply all that. We give people all the supplies, we have a little training packet, we have people send us photos of where the rabbit would be living and we work with people to make sure it's the right fit, and then they have the right the first right to adopt that rabbit. And a lot of times some of our harder to place rabbits end up getting adopted because they are fosters that the people have fallen in love with.

Amy Castro:

Yeah.

Marcy Berman:

So, for example, it's really unfortunate but the ruby-eyed white rabbits, the big ruby-eyed white rabbits, and we do get a lot of them from the shelters.

Marcy Berman:

We also work with legally released not released, but for lack of a better word, legally released lab rabbits that we will work with groups that can get them to us, and then these rabbits have never been out of a tiny cage. It's really, I mean, that's a whole other thing. Yeah, and people discriminate against the ruby-eyed bunnies because they're like ooh, it's red eyes and that's creepy, and they're actually beautiful. They're lavender and ruby and pink and blue, and so sometimes, when people are being weirded out by ruby eyes, we sort of strongly encourage them to foster a ruby-eyed bunny To get over that, especially if they have kids, because it's a really important, it's an important lesson to not be shallow about the animal that you pick and not based you know your choice on looks, and I would say that probably 75% of the time, these people who really didn't like ruby-eyed bunnies and have fostered them, they adopt the one they fostered. Yeah, and they don't even love with these bunnies because they're like the golden retrievers of them.

Amy Castro:

Oh yeah.

Marcy Berman:

So fostering is a really, really good way to learn if you like living with rabbits or not. And then another thing that I think is important is, if you have kids who are driving the decision, have your kids volunteer at a rescue. That will encourage them to work Like. This is not a petting zoo, it's a scrape. You like baby bunnies. Baby bunnies have a lot of diarrhea. So here you go. Yeah, here you go. Here's a scraper, and let's see how much you really like baby bunnies, because I think, it's important for people to know how much work is involved.

Marcy Berman:

Yeah, and get out of the romance.

Amy Castro:

Thank you. This episode that we did recently on the five welfare needs of animals. I interviewed Dr Emma Milne, who's a veterinarian and very much a proponent for animal welfare. She wrote a series of books called the Pet Detectives and I have not checked them out yet because I don't have kids, but they're basically geared towards kids. But one of the things that she recommends in these books, which I thought was a brilliant idea and she gave the example on the episode she said look, if your kids want a dog, tell them that they need to go with you for a walk every single day, for at least 30 minutes in the morning, at least 30 minutes in the evening, at minimum every single day rain, sleet, snow, hail, whatever for 30 days. If they do that, then we'll have a conversation about whether you get a dog. She said that she did the same thing when her kids wanted gerbil.

Amy Castro:

Obviously it's a little bit harder to recreate the gerbil care, but you do X amount of chores per day and you do these certain activities. I think if you can find a rescue that your kids can volunteer because we run into that a lot in our rescue with adults and kids is that that's what they think. They think it's going to be just playing with kittens, playing with puppies. I don't need you to do that. It's great you can do that, but what I really need you to do is scoop the 15 litter boxes in the cat room and clean up the cat puke and everything else. It's not quite as glamorous as just playing and cuddling kittens, so I think that's a great suggestion. Volunteering.

Marcy Berman:

I think that the parents need to come and volunteer, because at least out here in Marin, every child here is a genius. According to the parents, everybody out here is just an extraordinary child, their child, their six-year-old is smarter than every other six-year-old everywhere.

Marcy Berman:

And so you need to be here with your child also, because it's actually too much responsibility to leave on a child to monitor if the animal is sick or not, and sometimes the only way I can really get a parent to hear that is to say your child is going to be traumatized if they miss something. They're just too young to be able to pick up on things like that, because rabbits will hide their illnesses. So by the time you see a rabbit illness, you're already buying time for yourself to keep on. You got to get in there and start to move, and so if you have a child who's the only caregiver because your parents want you to learn the lesson of responsibility, it's not fair.

Amy Castro:

Yeah, you definitely have to be that second set of eyes, for sure.

Marcy Berman:

You have to be Unlike a cat or a dog that can vomit. A rabbit can't throw up, so they eat something it's in them and you may lose them.

Marcy Berman:

Same thing with combing a rabbit like Rupert, who was the bunny in here before. I was petting him, I'm like he has knots on him that I have to go get off of him. And we shaved him down some. He came to us because he's an Angora and the human who had him rescued him from someone else, but they were unable to care for him and so we had to took us two days to shave him down. The mats were so close to his fur.

Marcy Berman:

Poor baby Long hair bunnies. They're just a lot of work and then if you don't groom them, they will swallow their own fur and they don't throw up the furball it blocks our intestines and it kills them. So there's just much more work than people think.

Amy Castro:

Yeah, and so if you're thinking about it and that's something you think you want to do, make sure you get in touch with a bunny rescue. Well, and not only because of your extensive knowledge about the proper care for bunnies, but rather than going to a pet shop and just getting a bunny that might have come in from who knows where and nobody really knows anything about it. You know, you know about these bunnies and you can I would assume you can help match the person to the bunny based on their experience or based on their energy level, and I know we try to do that with our animals too, because some you know you could be a great dog owner or a great cat owner, but if you're like hyper and high energy, there's certain animals that are not going to do well with that, and so you know it's not. It's. It's something beyond just the basic food, water, shelter, that type of care.

Amy Castro:

Right right Exactly If I've kind of listened to this episode and thought, you know, I maybe thought a bunny was a good idea, but now I'm not so sure and obviously I can investigate fostering, but I do care about bunnies. What else? What can people, non-bunny owners, do to help the bunny welfare world?

Marcy Berman:

Well, obviously they can donate, so that those groups like like ours, that are that are trying to save these animals, have the finances to do it. That's really important. They can speak up in their own communities and they can go to a place that they need to know that the animals are the rabbits that are that are on restaurant menus. When you hear rabbit meat, you are not talking about a wild rabbit, you are talking about a farm raised domestic bunny and in the Bay Area here we have a big rabbit meat farm that's part of Marin Organics and we won a big fight against Whole Foods years ago to stop a rabbit meat program and we lost in our my own county because the board of supervisors is like this with this rabbit meat farm and they're part of the organics, now that's.

Marcy Berman:

It's hard for the rabbit rescue people to be the only ones saying, hey, these are companion animals, these are mammals. You know they're classified as poultry to make it easy to slaughter them. So I know I'm taking a. I know you asked for something easy, but one of the main things is trying to get people to get rabbits into the same category of companion animal as cat or dog. They are deserving and worthy of that, which means you see rabbit meat on a restaurant menu. You know I, if I see it on there, I'm not going to get in a big fight with the restaurant.

Marcy Berman:

That doesn't help. But I am going to say something. Like you know, I noticed you have rabbit on the menu. I live with a companion rabbit. I don't say I'm a rabbit rescue group because then immediately everybody discounts what you have to say. But I'll say I, you know I, I live with a rabbit as a companion animal and this is upsetting to me. So I'm going to. I choose not to eat here, and I wish you wouldn't do that. And if enough people do those sorts of things, it makes a difference because people need to hear from their customers.

Amy Castro:

Right.

Marcy Berman:

Same thing when you go into a store, a pet store, pet supply store, and you see all kinds of dog treats and there's a difference between an animal that might genuinely have an allergy and that's you know a very small number of animals, and then having rabbit meat treats everywhere in the store. That's horrible, that's horrible. And it's not that rabbit offers some special nutrition, it's just a new marketing thing, and so that's another way to help Volunteering. Of course, I also really recommend that people support their municipal shelters, the county shelters. The quote unquote kill shelters. I hate that terminology and I didn't know about it until I had found my rabbit, you know, back in 1999. And I wanted to get her a companion and I went to the San Francisco SPCA because I didn't want to go to animal control because they killed animals.

Amy Castro:

Right.

Marcy Berman:

SPCA was like we don't, we don't help rabbits. You have to go over here and you know, here's the fancy SPCA building with all kinds of resources and they don't. They choose to not help rabbits. And so I went over to animal care and control and ended up volunteering with them and fostering through them, and when we started working with them in 1999 or 2000, they had about a 95% euthanasia rate for rabbits. Nobody was helping, wow.

Marcy Berman:

And by 2003, we've worked with them and I give them credit for this they have not euthanized a rabbit there because of behavior or space, because our group will take them all. Now that's a huge responsibility on us. We have to pay for everything and it's a lot of animals. But the only time an animal the rabbit has gotten euthanized there is when they are genuinely dying or suffering and so supporting the local shelters. People who have dogs and cats understand that the food choices that you're making for your animals impact other animals. Do you really need to buy rabbit meat treats? Do you really need to? I mean, if you want to, that's your choice, but you are contributing to animal cruelty. So there's ways to help without adopting a rabbit, and I'm sure that some dog and cat. People might not like hearing me say that, but it would be great to have their help with it.

Amy Castro:

But I think what you're presenting is a completely logical point is that if your animal doesn't need that because, like I said, if it's not their primary food and they don't have an allergy, then they don't need to be eating that, and so by buying it, you're perpetuating the problem, and I think we covered a lot of ground and hopefully given people a lot of food for thought.

Marcy Berman:

So I appreciate this a lot.

Amy Castro:

No, yeah, I appreciate you being here and, for those who are listening, please go back and re-listen to this episode and share it with people that you know, anybody that might be considering getting a bunny as a pet, because I know I've learned a lot today and there's just a lot more to it than you might think, and so doing your homework to make sure it's a right fit for you is not only important for you, but it's really important for the bunnies as well, and you know that they have the best possible life. So, yeah, marcy, thank you so much for being here with us today.

Marcy Berman:

Thank you.

Amy Castro:

And we'll definitely put a link to your website because I think there's probably a lot of people that will want to check out your website donate I know I'm in Houston so obviously I can't get involved and volunteer out there, but I can certainly spread the word with my friends in California to seek you out whether they're looking to volunteer or looking to add a bunny to their family. So we'll definitely put that link up there in our show notes. Thanks for listening to Starlight Pet Talk. Be sure to visit our website at wwwstarlightpettalkcom for more resources and be sure to follow this podcast on your favorite podcast app so you'll never miss a show. If you enjoyed and found value in today's episode, we'd appreciate a rating on Apple. Or if you'd simply tell a friend about the show, that would be great too. Don't forget to tune in next week and every week for a brand new episode of Starlight Pet Talk. And if you don't do anything else this week, give your pets a big hug from us.

Understanding the World of Bunny Rescue
Small Animal Care and No Kill Issues
Rabbit Ownership
Promoting Animal Welfare and Responsible Ownership