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Rabbit Rescue Spotlight: Gainesville Rabbit Rescue

The legacy of two university students lives on with the Gainesville Rabbit Rescue, which has saved more than a thousand rabbits.

Marylou Zarbock
Posted: January 4, 2015, 8 p.m. EST

The Gainesville Rabbit Rescue began in 1998 when two University of Florida students began taking in unwanted rabbits. They were affiliated with the Tampa House Rabbit Society. Betsy Duncan joined them as a volunteer in 2000 after moving to the area and rescuing a Holland Lop that had one eye. Duncan, Kathy Finelli and Samantha Garver became the board of directors for the Gainesville Rabbit Rescue when the two UF students graduated and needed someone to take over. The rescue became its own entity in 2003.

Duncan said trends in surrendering rabbits are always the same. "[People’s] life circumstances changed. They need to move and can’t take their rabbit to their new home, their rabbit has behavioral issues they do not want to deal with, their children lost interest, they got a dog that wants to kill the rabbit, etc.”

two rabbits sitting side by side
© Courtesy Shannon Jackson/ 
Impo and Expo are one of the many bonded pairs that received help from the Gainesville Rabbit Rescue.

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Rabbit Rescue Successes
Two rescues stand out in Duncan’s mind. One was called the Sunshine Rescue and involved several Florida rabbit rescues and rescues in other states banding together to save rabbits that a large breeder who was going out of business had threatened to kill. "That was just unheard of — killing innocent, healthy rabbits — so we banned together and got all of the rabbits out,” Duncan said.

The second rescue involved a local hoarder who called them when she realized she had a problem. They took in 15 large rabbits. "This rescue was done on Valentine’s Day 2011,” Duncan said, "some of the sweetest and largest rabbits we had ever rescued. We still have two today that are the poster buns for our new endeavor. Smokey and Joe Black are still waiting for adoption and a safe, welcoming place to play.”

Aside from the rescues, Duncan said perhaps the greatest success to date is converting a barn on her property into a temperature-controlled space for the rabbits. She said it is good to have a space for people to visit the rabbits and see how playful and wonderful they are.

The most successful fundraiser to date was participating in a fashion show called Runways and Rescues, according to Duncan. The designer also invited a greyhound rescue group to participate. The models held a bunny as they walked the runway. Sponsors, in-kind donations and ticket sales were split between the two rescue groups.

Rabbit Rescue Challenges
While Duncan said that funding is always a challenge, she considers the biggest challenge of the rescue to be getting people to view rabbits differently. "They are not food,” she said. And she wishes there was some way to advertise or market or show people keeping them outside to even do it better — to give rabbits a fair chance at survival and a safe place to live. To be protected by those taking care of them instead of exploited.

Duncan believes their education efforts have saved additional rabbits beyond those that come to their shelter. People call to ask for advice, and they are happy to help. Some of the most common questions are about what vegetables rabbits can eat and how to litter train rabbits.

The Gainesville Rabbit Rescue is run by volunteers, and Duncan said individuals change as people move into and out of the college-town area. "We have a core group that is aging and could use some new and long-term volunteers to help run the rescue,” she said. "One of our members is retired from guinea pig rescue as she had no support, so she joined our team and we now support her endeavors. We offer the public a voucher program to assist them with spay/neuter costs — this was done through a grant we received which we are paying forward by passing this benefit along to others.”

What People Should Know About Rabbits
What is the one thing Duncan wishes people knew about rabbits? "We wish that people could see that they are not for small children, but for everyone and that they are able to be spayed/neutered, litter box trained and are wonderful house pets. Living in an outside hutch is not enough — they need to be part of the family, just like other domestic pets.”


Gainesville Rabbit Rescue Quick Stats
Location: Florida
Opened: 1998 in affiliation with Tampa House Rabbit Society; 2003 as own entity
Rabbits Rescued Since Opening: Approximately 1,100 since 1998 
Number Of Rabbits Typically At The Shelter: 80 to 100

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Excerpt from the annual magazine Rabbits USA, 2014 issue, with permission from its publisher, I-5 Publishing, LLC. To purchase the current Rabbits USA annual, click here>>

Posted: January 4, 2015, 8 p.m. EST

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