One in a series of holiday-inspired destinations in co-op country.
This month: Easter.
Virginia rabbit rescue finds good homes for abandoned bunnies
by Gregg MacDonald, Staff Writer
In the late 1990s, Mary Ellen Whitehouse was eating in a Chinese restaurant, looked down at her placemat and discovered that her birth year coincided with the Year of the Rabbit.
“Something just clicked,” she says. “Ever since I was a little girl, I had a feeling that I would one day run an animal rescue, but I always thought it might be for cats. When I saw I had been born under the Year of the Rabbit, I instantly recognized my calling.”
Today, Whitehouse runs Bunny Lu Rabbit Rescue in Waynesboro, Va., and has been saving orphaned and abandoned rabbits since 1999.
“In 2020 and 2021 overall, I took in and adopted out about 375,” she says. Currently she is caring for about 50 bunnies. Whitehouse keeps most of them in her 1,500-square-foot basement, but recently has had to convert some of her upstairs living space for overflow, much to the chagrin of her corgi, her personal pet rabbits and her five cats.
“I’ve made it work,” she says. “It’s difficult to turn away rabbits in need, but I can always use good foster home volunteers. I can only do so much.”
Estimates of the U.S. bunny population range from 3 million to 7 million.
According to National Geographic, the most popular time of year to buy rabbits as pets is around Easter. Unfortunately, most parents have no idea how much work rabbits require, causing nearly 80% of rabbits bought for Easter to be abandoned within the first year of ownership.
“Rabbits are like little horses,” Whitehouse says. “They require hay, specialized veterinarians and a lot of room to live in.” Unlike horses, however, rabbits are very delicate and have very fragile bones, Whitehouse says. They also are incapable of regurgitating, making where they live and what they eat very important.
“A 4-by-6-foot pen is the minimum area a rabbit needs to live in,” she says. “And with a gestation period of only 28 days, it goes without saying that they need to be spayed and neutered before becoming a pet. Rabbits are induced ovulators and can have babies any time of year. All it takes is another rabbit.”
The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates the U.S. bunny population at between 3 million and 7 million, but says that’s inexact because rabbits reproduce so quickly. Additionally, some people never take their rabbits for veterinary care, so records are scarce. And rabbits are bought and given away so quickly that the amount is in constant flux.
Occasionally, rabbits are seized from owners by authorities due to poor living conditions and other animal rights violations, including three recent seizures in Virginia, Whitehouse notes. More than 100 were seized from a home in Loudoun County, about the same number from a home in Virginia Beach and a slightly lesser number from a home in Isle of Wight County.
As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit domestic rabbit rescue, Bunny Lu Rabbit Rescue is eligible for donations and fundraising events, such as fire station bingo proceeds, Whitehouse says.
“Right now, I’m spending about $300 per week for nine cases of veggies that I buy from a wholesaler,” she says. “That doesn’t include pellets, vaccinations, spaying and neutering, hay and other bunny necessities.”
But Whitehouse says that in the end, when she sees a bunny going to its forever home, the effort is worth it. “I wish I could help them all,” she says.
For more information about Bunny Lu Rabbit Rescue, go to bunnylu.org.