By CAMILLE MOORE
MARIETTA, Ga. — “I thought they [rabbits] were rodents; they are not,” said Edie Sayeg co-chapter manager of Georgia House Rabbit Society. “I thought they could live in a small cage; they do not. I thought they could live one to three years; they can live much longer, 10- to -15 years with great care. What I did do right was fall in love with her.”
Rabbits are the third most popular pet behind dogs and cats. But with little education, many rabbits are abandoned, neglected and abused. GHRS is an all-volunteer nonprofit rabbit rescue organization in Marietta, Georgia that aims to help injured, abandoned, or abused rabbits.
“We are passionate and want to save these guys,” said Sayeg. “They mean a lot to us. They really do.”
GHRS was established in 1996 as a chapter from the national organization, Rabbit House Society. Sayeg and Ronda Churchwell became co-chapter managers of the organization in 1997.
GHRS’ main mission is to save and adopt rabbits out, and to educate the public when it comes to rabbits.
“We take the sickest and neediest; they don’t scare us,” said shelter manager Jennifer McGee. “They can’t bark or meow like other companion animals, they are prey animals. They hide everything. You have to be very intuitive to watch them.”
GHRS receives rabbits in good health or bad, many times from animal shelters who don’t know what to do with rabbits. Sometimes people bring in rabbits they found in parks or on the side of the road.
To educate rabbit owners and potential rabbit owners on the basics of caring for a rabbit, GHRS offers four Bunny 101 classes a month, taught by experienced rabbit owners. The instructors teach participants how to properly feed and house rabbits, and teach the importance of exercise and socialization for rabbits.
“They are social people with humans and other rabbits,” said Sayeg. “Since they are alone a great deal of the time they need another bunny. Watching two bunnies groom each other is the most beautiful thing you’ll ever watch.”
The instructors also teach the importance of health and maintenance. Spay and neuter is recommended once adopted, especially for female rabbits that are risk of ovarian cancer before the age of three if not spayed. After the Bunny 101 class, a Bunny 201 class is offered that delves deeper into medical care; the class teaches preventative care and how to take care of a rabbit when it gets sick.
Sandy Hansen, who has adopted three rabbits from GHRS, said she is grateful for its education.
“I rave about these guys to anyone that asks,” said Hansen. “They have a willingness to help you, once they educate you, you really are better to care for them yourselves if something happens. You don’t want to take them to an emergency veterinarian because they are used to cats and dogs.”
She takes her rabbits to Dr. Stewart Colby, who is the same veterinarian GHRS uses.
“Made me sad to realize that if I would have known more, then I could have done more,” said Hansen when talking about her previous two rabbits that died. “It was a huge and eye opening.”
Since GHRS is volunteer based, volunteers come to the shelter throughout the week, averaging 100 volunteers a month for four hours to feed the rabbits, clean, sweep and change litter boxes.
Jillian, 11, who found two rabbits near Paces Ferry Road and brought them in, loves volunteering and has adopted two rabbits of her own from the shelter.
“I love it here,” she said. “My favorite thing is to hold the rabbits and sweep.”
Jillian posing with two rabbits she rescued. She planned on naming them Rocky or something chocolate sounding because of their fur. However, the brown in their fur is a side effect from being malnourished, and their fur is supposed to be silky black. (Photo by Camille Moore)
To adopt a bunny, the GHRS has strict guidelines. First, a person must be 18 or older to adopt. The chapter managers check on the rabbits every two weeks, six weeks after and make house visits.
The organization always accepts rabbits back if for some reason it does not work out.
“The coolest thing about the bunnies that come in having been abused or in bad situations, we tell them, ‘They never have to worry again,’” said McGee. “They are GHRS rabbit and we take that serious.”
To date, GHRS has adopted out 3,000 rabbits. Last year alone, they adopted out 229. But not all rabbits that are adopted come to the organization in perfect health.
Captain, 4, came to the organization with a broken leg and an upper repository infection. He stayed overnight at animal control before coming to the shelter.
“He was there with barking dogs, meowing cats and no pain medication,” said McGee. “He lived because of his sheer will to survive.”
Captain posing with Edie Sayeg. He has already been adopted and promised to someone, and will leave the shelter after his leg heals. (Photo by Camille Moore)
In addition to education and adoption, GHRS offers boarding, grooming, and a store.
The entrance of the shelter and the store. The store sells pellets, wooden toys, treats and other necessities for rabbits. (Photo by Camille Moore)
GHRS is nonprofit and receives 60 percent of its revenue from donations and 40 percent from boarding, grooming and the store.
With Easter around the corner, bunny sales will increase. Sayeg said she knows is when bunnies will be “Easter dumped.”
“Bunnies are dumped for behavioral reasons because people don’t get educated,” said Sayeg. “They don’t get the facts, and 95 percent die before their first birthday when bought for Easter.”
To prevent further “Easter dumpings,” GHRS was gifted a digital billboard for a public service announcements to run two weeks before Easter. The billboard will have the web address notforeaster.com that will be a landing page and take you to GHRS website.
“We are thinking of putting an adult rabbit, not a cute bunny one,” said Sayeg. “With the sentence, ‘Way more work than you think.’”
McGee said that caring for rabbits is a 10-to-15 year commitment, and should not be treated as an impulse buy.
Sayeg’s favorite quote by Maya Angelou is GHRS mantra: “You do what you know and when you know better, you do better.”