• 29 July 2014

Taking a trip down the rabbit hole: Amy Metcalfe volunteers at rabbit rescue centre

All employees at Workplace Law are offered one day’s paid leave per year for a worthy cause, and although I really wanted to take advantage of this sooner, I was waiting for the perfect opportunity to come along. I had heard about a rabbit rescue centre near me that needed volunteers, so got in touch with them.

I arranged to volunteer at the Rabbit Residence Rescue, a charity local to me who take in unwanted pet rabbits and look to rehome them. They also offer a holiday boarding service which generates a regular revenue stream. I have owned rabbits since the age of 12 and after losing one of mine a few weeks prior, I wanted to do something to help some rabbits less fortunate than mine. I will also be looking for a companion for my now single rabbit (Alan) in a couple of months and I’m a firm believer in rescuing pets rather than buying them. When I said to family and friends I’d be helping out at the rescue centre, they all said “I bet you come home with one!”

The site is tucked away in Great Chishill, and as it is behind a residential area, visitors / volunteers must have an appointment and are asked to park in the nearby village hall and walk down a small track to the site. I met Amy on arrival, who said I’d probably never see so many rabbits in one place, and as we set off on a tour I realised she wasn’t joking. There are around 200 rabbits on the site living in rows of aviaries, hutches, sheds and runs and Amy said they also have enough rabbits on their intake waiting list to fill the rescue again.  

The rabbits find their way here for a variety of reasons; some come from the RSPCA and Blue Cross who don’t have the facilities to look after rabbits themselves. The others have found their way to the centre for all sorts of reasons; strays, pets that people have got bored of, breeding which got out of control or the owners became too ill to look after them. Two rabbits even came in because the owners took them to the vet and asked for them to be put to sleep because they were going on holiday… luckily the vet refused!

My job for the day was cleaning out the hutches. It takes a whole week to clean out all the rabbits and a different section is cleaned out each day in rotation. While I was cleaning out the hutches, Amy went round feeding the rabbits and changing their water - this job alone takes three hours to complete.

Each hutch is split into two sections, a ‘sleeping area’ and a ‘living area’ and the first one I cleaned out was easy to do. Both rabbits darted into the sleeping area while I cleaned out the living area and then moved into the living area while I cleaned out the sleeping area. I was feeling confident that I’d finish the hutches in no time, but not all of them were that easy! The next hutch I came to housed one of the holiday boarders, a cheeky rabbit named Hunny who was intent on escaping! It was a constant battle to keep Hunny in the hutch while I cleaned around her and it took me twice as long to clean out the second hutch!

It was a hot and sunny morning so I soon worked up a sweat and each hutch I came to housed rabbits all with different personalities. I met a gorgeous trio of blue eyed lops, a grumpy lionhead and more cheeky escape artists, but the ones who kept me on my toes the most were four bunnies all intent on escape! The bunnies I was told had ‘smuggled’ their way in to the rescue three months ago. The RSPCA had called and asked if they could bring in four females that they were in possession of. At the time the rescue had four single boys and so agreed to take them as they would spay all the girls and pair them up with the four single boys. When the females arrived though, three of them were heavily pregnant, something which the RSPCA had failed to spot. Four rabbits quickly became 16 after one had seven bunnies, another had four and the third had one.

These four were very pesky but made me laugh constantly. The white one was totally bonkers and kept jumping on everything and just running round, the brown Harlequin one just wanted to escape and kept trying to jump in the bag I was putting the dirty hay / sawdust in, and the other two kept trying to sneak out behind me. You definitely needed eyes in the back of your head for this lot!

A hay delivery arrived at 1pm and the driver brought ice-creams with him, so I took that as a cue to break for lunch. I found a bench in one of the open runs and so enjoyed my lunch in the company of Nelson and Miley who were both making the most of the sunshine.

Dark clouds suddenly appeared and there were a few rumbles of thunder in the distance so as soon I’d eaten I got back to work. It started raining, which was welcome relief from the heat of the morning, but as the rain got heavier it made me realise that no matter what the weather, the volunteers and Amy (who is a paid employee of the rescue) still have to make sure the rabbits are cleaned and fed every day. Amy very kindly loaned me a waterproof jacket, but that eventually gave up and we had to duck inside until the heaviest of the rain passed. Luckily behind the rain was blue sky and it soon blew over.

I finished all of the hutches and then helped Amy on the medicine round, administering the medicine was again easier with some than others. With the first rabbit we were giving medication to, all I had to do was squat down and hold the syringe out and he came straight over and bit onto the end and I then just squirted the meds in and that was that. With my rabbit at home it is always a battle to get meds into him so I was totally blown away by this one running over as though it was a treat! Not all of them were as easy though and there were a few ‘squirmers’, one particularly feisty one I had to leave for Amy to do as I thought he was going to dive off the top of the hutch.

With medication successfully given it was time for me to head home. Amy is leaving in August which is a real blow to the rescue as she is their only full time member of staff. Everyone else who helps are volunteers and aren’t there all of the time. Caroline, who runs the site, is often tied up with vet trips, delivering rabbits to new homes and taking in holiday boarders and unwanted rabbits whenever they can fit them in. As a result, they are crying out for volunteers to help with cleaning and feeding. I’ll definitely be helping out here when I can and my husband has agreed to come along too!

When I got home I absolutely stank, was covered in mud and hay and ached all over from squatting down and bending over all day. Seeing the rabbits happily leaping around in their fresh hay made it all worthwhile however.

There were a few I would have loved to take home with me - Jellybean was really friendly and loved being stroked, but also had a cheeky side. There was another sweet rabbit that is blind and deaf and his partner gives him little nudges to guide him along which was really sweet to watch.

My husband was surprised when I came home without any rabbits in my pocket, but with me now committing to help out at the rescue more often, who knows what might happen in the future... !

Find out more about the Rabbit Residence Rescue here.