Posted: July 22, 2014, 4 a.m. EDT
Sometimes the tiniest of souls inspire us. They can change your world. They can change "the” world. When a tiny abandoned, white, crazy-haired bunny entered Gretta Parker’s life, both were changed. Drastically.
It all began one late September in 2010 when Parker saw a newscast about the abundance of abandoned rabbits in shelters after Easter every year. Deciding she’d like to make a difference she went to the Guilford County Animal Shelter in Greensboro, North Carolina, the next day to donate some money to the cause. Instead of just donating, she shelled out a "steep” $7.50 for an adoption fee and brought home a sassy bunny she named Flopsy. "He was the best thing that I have ever done. I don’t know if I could ever put into words how he changed my life, the things he taught me,” Parker said.
She was madly in love and began to build a new life for the little one she soon referred to as her "funny bunny” because of his wild antics, such as the daily tipping over of his litter pan and food dish. This new life included everything he could ever ask for, including a little brown bunny named Isabella added to the family. Parker shares how she took it a step further, "I started him a Facebook page after I adopted him, because of the charisma he had in his photos. I wanted to help raise awareness of rabbits being abandoned after Easter, and to promote adoption.” His popularity and the message mushroomed over the Internet!
© Courtesy Gretta Parker
This is Parker's favorite photo of Flopsy. She said it was the first time she saw that he was something that was truly a gift.
Flopsy and his little sister became spokes bunnies for bunnies who need Forever Homes. But Parker wanted to do still more. So she worked extra hours to raise money in order to start a new nonprofit entity called Baskets for Bunnies Inc.
"I started Baskets for Bunnies to help raise awareness for the issues rescues face, and to raise supplies for other small animal rescues,” Parker said. "Toys for Hops is our biggest ongoing program right now.”
The pet toy company Happy Rabbit Toys generously helps the program provide free rabbit toys to shelters all over the world. More than 2,000 toys have been shared and enjoyed by bunnies worldwide. Another one of Parker’s endeavors was to publish a book she authored called The Easter Bunny That Grew Up. It is based on her beloved Flopsy’s life.
Then during the Christmas holidays, on December 28, 2011, things suddenly turned tragic in the Parker home. Flopsy passed away from a hidden congenital kidney defect that resulted in their underdevelopment and eventual failure. Words could never convey the pain and loss that Parker felt when she lost the rabbit she considered her "son.” But she turned that agony into something heroic.
© Courtesy Gretta Parker
Flopsy and his cagemate, Bella.
"I wrote The $7.50 Bunny That Changed the World during the 24 hours after Flopsy died,” Parker said. "I could not grasp the pain I felt, and the fact that my Bella, his bonded mate, was grieving too. So we sat on the couch with my laptop, and I just wrote about our life, the things he had taught me and about adopting rabbits. I wanted to make everything make sense — our life and his death. I wanted something good to come from the sadness.”
And boy did some good come of it. That book went on to earn two finalist prizes at the Next Generation Indie Book Awards in the categories of Children’s/Juvenile Fiction and Pets/Animals. It is the largest nonprofit awards program for independent authors and publishers. That’s quite an achievement … and offers quite a vehicle for Flopsy’s message. But Flopsy’s legacy does not stop there.
A few days after Flopsy left this Earth, Parker found herself at the York County SPCA to look into adopting a new cagemate for Bella, who was left behind. "I saw a brown lop just tearing his cage apart,” she said. "I sat there with tears streaming down my face thinking Flopsy would have liked his litterbox flipping skills. I thought, ‘why not start a sanctuary for bunnies labeled as aggressive, elder and special-needs bunnies as a tribute to Flopsy.’”
Just a few months later that same SPCA contacted Parker about the Toys for Hops program and Parker asked what happened to the little lop. It turned out he was in quarantine for biting at that time. "That little brown rabbit was named Stanley. He would become the first rabbit I took into the sanctuary.” And those wonderful books? Their proceeds helped start the sanctuary, which became known as The Flopsy Parker Memorial Sanctuary, which is now located in Martinsburg, West Virginia. The facility is in a commercially zoned Victorian home that was built in 1886.
© Courtesy Gretta Parker
Parker said her tattoo sums up how she believes that Flopsy's spirit always watches over them. The second photo shows Parker with Stanley, the first resident of the sanctuary.
It wasn’t all that easy to achieve the dream of opening a sanctuary, however. Parker had to face a critical, life-altering challenge before Flopsy’s legacy became what it is today. "I had built a building on a property my husband and I owned,” Parker said. "As I became more involved with the sanctuary, and Flopsy’s legacy, my husband gave me an ultimatum — give up the bunnies, or my marriage. I chose the latter. I moved us all into a different building, and rebuilt the dream I had started. Sometimes I think it is the only way I kept my sanity. It will be three years in December since I lost Flopsy, and the sadness still remains. I just kept focusing, and trying to keep his memory alive. Flopsy left me physically, but his spirit stayed in my heart. It guides me and the bunnies that end up here.”
Today 21 rabbits, three sugar gliders, one angry chinchilla, and a blind cat named Anubis live a glorious life blessed with a stable future with Parker.
Patricia Brent has volunteered for Gainesville Rabbit Rescue for five years, has bunnies of her own and is currently fostering two. She met Parker on Facebook more than four years ago and witnessed Flopsy’s popularity and message about abandoned Easter bunnies light up the Internet. The friends meet twice a year and converse on a regular basis. She sings praises about Parkers efforts and the little bunny that inspired them.
"He was an Internet sensation and his passing generated hundreds, if not thousands, of messages from all over the globe,” Brent said. "Gretta is one of the kindest, most selfless people I've ever met. Gretta is an inspiration to the bunny community with her unfailing willingness to educate and assist.”
And so now you know about the little bunny’s brief life on this Earth and how he impacted thousands of lives, human and furred. "He never met a camera he did not like,” Parker said. "He had energy about him, it was apparent in his photos. I used to say he wore his soul on the outside.”
No doubt this energy was contagious and still continues to spread and to grow. The self-described rescuer and full-time bunny maid keeps working for the welfare of pet rabbits, while a little cantankerous and crazy-haired spirit looks over her shoulder. Parker shares what she’d like her future to hold, "I would like to write more books about the bunnies that come into the sanctuary and use the proceeds to expand the sanctuary. My goal is to buy the building we are living in so they will always have a home. I just want my future to be surrounded by bunnies. I want to be remembered for trying to make a difference.”
Regardless of what the future holds, Gretta Parker will always be remembered for making a difference.
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