Saturday, 11 February 2012

Can You Love An Ugly?: Part Two

Rabbits. Well, those of you who know me know that I am fanatical about rabbits' but even my rose-tinted spectacles cannot hide the truth that you get ugly-bugly bunnies too.

Ariadne, the albino lionhead, is a typical example of the type of rabbit that gets a raw deal. The last albino we had was with us for about 18 months, despite featuring in local and national advertising campaigns. In the end a friend of mine adopted him, but if she hadn't I can guarantee Beano would still be with us now.

People just don't like albino animals, seemingly finding them odd and creepy looking. When I adopted an albino rat some years ago I coined the phrase 'jam eyes' and somehow this made her instantly less freaky.

I remember the third rabbit I ever adopted (some 10/11 years ago). I went along to a shelter and simply said I wanted the rabbit they were finding hardest to rehome. They pointed out a little Netherland Dwarf with jam eyes and they told me people found his eyes 'demonic looking' - truly! So, he came straight home with us and we named him Arthur (Half-A) cos he was the size of half a rabbit. His personality was wonderful and a true indication as to why we should look beyond the shell.

Ariadne has only recently arrived, and so her journey with us has only just begun and will definitely be a long one. On the plus side, in most instances we give our rabbits a better life than what they came from. In fact, I remember last year the national RSPCA's inspection officer remarking that the quality of life we give our rabbits is better than the average home. What a reassuring commendation to receive. But the truth is, for every rabbit that stays with us long-term, it is one less that we can help.

Ariadne was kept in a baron 3ft hutch along with two other rabbits. There was nothing to absorb the urine and she was stained yellow and the floor beneath the hutch was soaking wet with urine. We have 3 other rabbits from the same home and whilst they are young, healthy and sociable we know their looks will prevent them from being rehomed.

Danni, pictured middle, isn't ugly but her current moulting is making her look moth-eaten, and believe it or not this will put people off from wanting her. She can also be quite shy, so isn't very good at selling herself. We have the same problem with the cats; if they aren't forthcoming with visitors they reduce their chances of finding homes so much. We have a new cat called Norris that no-one has seen yet. He is a bit of a hulkling, frightened, ugly-bugly so we'll see if he settles in before making any decisions about where he would better off. If we put him in a foster home that will further reduce his chances of being adopted so for now we are just keeping an eye on him.

Betty, pictured bottom, really is an ugly-Betty. She has come from the same rescue as Danni and is most likely related to her, but she truly fell out of the ugly tree. To make matters worse she is really quite timid. Poor Betty.

Like all the animal shelters we struggle to rehome rabbits. There truly aren't enough good homes out there let alone for the more challenging rabbits. Invariably our circle of friends end up adopting them but at the moment we are all up to maximum capacity.

I've received criticism this week for our rehoming policy on rabbits; namely that we won't allow them to travel more than 1.5 hours to a new home. I know that this is contrary to many other shelters but our decision to do this went to board level where it was unanimously agreed to implement this limit. The reason? Because they are such highly strung creatures that when placed under prolonged periods of distress it can result in jeopardising their health.

Few people know that rabbits can go into something called gut stasis from not eating and pooping and die within as short a time frame as 12-24 hours. Stress can induce this condition, so by placing this time limit of 1.5hours we feel we are doing our best to safe-guard a rabbit's well-being.

We take quite a number of rabbits from the Yorkshire region and each time they arrive it is a tense waiting game to see if they start eating and defecating whilst they settle in. Just in the last week two rabbits have required syringe feeding to get them going again, so you see it really isn't a random rule.

And of course by keeping it within 1.5hours it means that we can offer a bespoke service to the adopter, by helping with any support needs they may require. For example, some months after adoption Herbert bunny required injectable antibiotics. His adopters were struggling with the injections so I travelled a two-hour round trip to go and support them in their home. This paid off and Herbert is back to full health again. I don't know many other shelters that offer this level of after-care but what I can assure you is that our policies are based on ensuring the best outcome for our animals.

Please open your heart to an ugly-bugly this Valentine's Day.