On Saturday I took the girls to our nearest Rabbit Rescue place to swap our feisty female rabbit for a more sedate (and neutered) male, to co-exist more happily with our other female. It was an interesting experience. On arrival we rang one of the two doorbells attached to a weather-worn garden gate – I randomly selected the one marked ‘garden’ with gaffa tape – and waited in trepidation outside a dilapidated terraced house. Ringing the doorbell seemed a little pointless as a few dogs were giving it hell from within.
Eventually a lady with huge wavy, greying hair and ripped clothing opened the gate. I introduced ourselves, and as she wasn’t very forthcoming I suggested I get our rabbit out the car. With this large cage in my arms I now ushered my two fairly nervous children in front of me down the long narrow alleyway. We were told to keep on going, right into the back of the place, past the barking dogs in their enclosure, all the while being careful to avoid upsetting any of the bottles of water lining the path. There were about 50 bottles that looked like they used to contain squash. Without their lids, and looking slightly green.
At the end of the alley there was a ledge at waist height to put down the cage, and then I realised we were surrounded by perhaps thirty or forty massive rabbit hutches, stacked up and covered in plastic. Cecelia told us she’d shut the rabbits all up for the night already, hence the plastic. So then began the careful negotiation that is her summing us up as owners – could she see a photograph of our rabbit housing arrangements? – and us as clients – was the rabbit we were to have friendly/youngish/neutered/jabbed for mixamatosis?
I was amazed to learn that she runs this place mostly on her own, with a few donations, and last year made a loss of £5000 which came from her own savings. She gets a lot of rabbits from breeders who do shows. “The good breeders dump their unwanted rabbits on me, which isn’t welcome because it fills up my spaces,” said Cecelia. “The bad ones, they just neck them.” She rehomes about one per day. “But I don’t give them to a lot of people because their housing isn’t good enough.” Fortunately ours passed – on condition that we buy a bigger hutch asap. I think it was the outdoor run that cinched it.
By the end of our visit I had grown accustomed to Cecelia’s abrupt manner; I filled the gaps with questions. She had no interest in my daughter’s random fact-giving, like, “I’m six, and we’ve got a camper van and we’re going to sell it and get a big tent.” I promised to send a cheque to cover the cost of our new bunny’s op.
Back at home he has settled in well. He has a new name: Tickle. Even my husband agrees he is cute, with his lop-ears and calm nature, and hasn’t yet mentioned rabbit stew, so it must be love. Tickle sits side-by-side with his new bunny wife and spends 99 per cent of the time in the run. I’m glad we have him, and I’m glad that people like Cecelia live for the rabbits, and their welfare. Humble rescue centres like hers deserve more praise and support.