More than a decade ago, Quan Myers of Walpole had two life-changing experiences: She purchased a rabbit she called Harvey, and she suffered a serious brain and spinal cord injury in a horseback-riding accident.
“When I bought Harvey, I had no idea how this would change my life,” Myers said during a recent interview at the Walpole home and landscape business that she shares with her husband and the 110 rabbits she has rescued.
In 1998, after she was thrown from a horse, Myers was injured so severely that she spent a full year sleeping 20 hours a day. After that, she continued to suffer seizures, nausea, disorientation and vertigo for another two years. Her vertigo was so extreme that she barely felt steady even when lying flat on her back in bed or on the ground outdoors.
In the depths of this difficulty, Harvey provided care and companionship. “Harvey would lick my feet and my face and stay beside me constantly. It was as if this bunny knew I was in need,” Myers said. “Harvey became a lifesaver for me. I wish Harvey’s own story had such a happy ending,” she added. “But unfortunately, that was not the case.”
Like many people who buy rabbits, Myers was given inadequate information about how to care for the creature properly. Although she undoubtedly spent more time with the rabbit than most people, and allowed Harvey more freedom from the cage than most pet rabbits ever enjoy, Harvey met a very common rabbit fate when he succumbed to gastrointestinal stasis, or GI stasis, an intestinal slowdown or stoppage that can result from stress, dehydration, gas or other underlying causes. Essentially, the rabbit stopped eating and producing feces and died quite rapidly and painfully.
Heartbroken, Myers became determined to understand more about rabbit care. As soon as she had recovered sufficiently from her brain and spinal injury, she volunteered at an animal shelter where she became acquainted with rabbits that had been abandoned by their owners because they were aggressive, ill, injured or simply too much trouble to care for, in the eyes of their owners.
She soon saw that rabbits that were housed in the expanded spaces she built for them exhibited fascinating and complex behavior and displayed a range of personalities. Many that had been nervous or aggressive became more relaxed. As a licensed massage therapist, Wilson tried out some massage techniques on rabbits that had hind-leg problems. Some of the animals that had been destined for euthanasia for apparent lameness recovered under her care, she said.
“I went to the shelter to learn about rabbit care,” Myers said, “but I ended up educating them, too.”
It was not long before she began to take some rabbits home and to build them structures and fenced-in areas she called Rabbitats. As the number of bunnies in her care grew, she established the nonprofit shelter Rabbitats for Humanity, using her savings to set up a large, predatorproof outdoor environment with sheltering structures and areas for groups of rabbits to live together. Some 100 rabbits now reside in her outdoor space. She also houses more rabbits in her barn and in her home, bringing the current total of rescued rabbits living there to 110. Over the years, she has helped more than 300 rabbits.
All of Myers’ rabbits are neutered, not only because they would breed exponentially, but because neutering improves health and temperament, she said. Myers said it is imperative that rabbit owners recognize the importance of neutering their pets, even if the rabbits never have the chance to mate. She also said that rabbits are social animals and that they seem to thrive better in pairs rather than on their own.
Myers also emphasized the importance of providing shelter, roaming space and the right foods to rabbits, adding that some products commonly sold in pet stores, such as pine shavings and sugary treats, are not good for rabbits.
Agricultural fairs make it tempting and relatively easy to purchase rabbits, but Myers cautioned: “If you want to own a rabbit, you really have to educate yourself about what’s best for them. It’s not only for the bunnies that you want to take care of them well. It’s so much more fascinating for you to see the complex, loving animals that they can be, and you cannot see this when they are confined to a small hutch or cage.”
For information about rabbit care and feeding or to sponsor one or more of Myers’ rabbits, visit www.rabbitatsforhumanity.org.