January 17, 2018
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This past Saturday became one of extreme emotion for volunteers at Cottontail Cottage Rabbit Rescue, when a family of rabbits was saved from an owner who had purchased them at a local livestock auction.

Cottontail Cottage Rabbit Rescue is Maine’s First and Only Licensed Rabbit Shelter and Non-profit, whose mission is: “together, we can save somebunny today!” Located at Cottontail Cottage – an organic farmstead in Lamoine, the shelter is run entirely by volunteers and is dedicated to rescuing abandoned, neglected or surrendered rabbits and finding them loving, forever homes. Orphaned rabbits are provided with physical and social rehabilitation and sanctuary at the “Bunny Barn”, until they are deemed fit, to be matched with qualified adoptees. CCRR seeks to educate the public on the care for these beautiful creatures, as well as the importance of spay and neuter.

According to Jenny Nichols, owner and president of the CCRR, she responded to an ad in Uncle Henry’s asking for help for a litter of sickly baby bunnies. Nichols quickly put a call through. She was than told, that the now owner, had been the winning bidder at this past Monday’s livestock auction in Fairfield. What she had bid on was a large breed New Zealand White rabbit in a cage with 8 of her three-week-old babies. What she really was after, she admitted to Nichols, was the cage.

New Zealand White Rabbits are a breed of rabbit from New Zealand. They have well-rounded bodies; slender and muscular faces with round cheeks; large, long back feet; and small, short front pectoral muscles. New Zealand White Rabbits are noted for their long perforated ears that stand straight up. Unlike the thick, snowy fur on their bodies, their ears have shorter fur that allows the delicate pale pink of their skin to show through. The most noticeable characteristic of New Zealand White rabbits is their bright eyes, which range in shade from pale pink to bright ruby purple. New Zealand White rabbits have large, broad, and muscular bodies. Bucks (males) weigh between 8-10 pounds, while the does (females) weigh between 9-12 pounds.

Sadly, New Zealand rabbits are best known as being meat rabbits. Although, according to many rabbit enthusiast, they are one of the friendliest, smartest and most loving breed of rabbits, making them excellent domesticated pets.

Nichols reports, upon speaking to the owner, that after placing the winning bid on Monday, the owner brought the cage of rabbits back to her house. Soon after, the owner noticed the mother rabbit building a nest. It wasn’t long before she heard the baby rabbits squealing. Upon investigating, the owner explained that the mother rabbit appeared to be trying to kill them. At this point, she was quick to separate the babies from their mother. Moments later, the mother rabbit began to give birth to a large litter of ten kits. The owner than told Nichols, that she was unable to financially afford to properly care for the bunnies – a total at this point of 19 rabbits – and that the first litter of babies were sickly and undernourished. Nichols then, explained to the owner about her licensed rabbit shelter, Cottontail Cottage Rabbit Rescue. Nichols states that she told the owner that she would be willing to take all of the rabbits and provide for their care at the shelter. At that point, the owner proceeded to demand monetary compensation for the rabbits. After lengthy negotiating, Nichols ended up paying $80 dollars in cash to rescue the 8 three-week-old baby rabbits, the mother rabbit and the ten newborn kits. Thanks to CCRR’s Operations Manager, Angel Bell, all the rabbits were quickly transported to the Lamoine Shelter.

Upon examining the rabbits, Nichols and Bell, discovered that the three-week-old babies, although very thin and covered in feces; and despite the fact that they should still be nursing from their mother – were in adequate health. One of the babies’ eyes was sealed shut and had to be worked on to open them. The nine (one had already died) newborn kits were of differentiating sizes. Several of them were so tiny and without movement, that they had to be immediately force-nursed to the mother. The mother – whom has now been named, “Phoebe” – was in such terrible condition, that they despaired its survival.

Says Nichols: “Phoebe came to us skin and bones. New Zealand Whites are normally, big, beautiful rabbits, with shiny fur and grand, almost ancient looking faces. They are superior in shape and form and I always like to think – as the “White Rabbit” in Alice in Wonderland – they should be carrying pocket watches.”

According to Nichols, Phoebe was in grave health, with the “saddest eyes, I have ever seen on a rabbit.” Obviously undernourished from nursing one litter of 8 babies to, now a new litter of 9 babies, she was in quite dire condition. Phoebe was immediately given fresh timothy hay, large, clean quarters for her and the new kits, and fresh water and pellets. The three-week-old litter of rabbits were put in a cage next to Phoebe, along with the very last Angora baby rabbit, the shelter had up for adoption, who just that day had lost her siblings to adoptions.

Nichols states, “The Angora baby was so sad, it seemed a natural thing, to put it in with these 8 babies who needed warmth and the largess of another rabbit. I was wary at first, but it wasn’t long before these babies were treating the Angora baby like mum; or a bean bag, for that matter, forming pyramids on top of her and nestling underneath, all that fur.”

The saddest part for Nichols came, when upon tempting Phoebe with a choice carrot, she shoved it out of Nichols hand and forced her head underneath her fingers for a good long rub. “This poor, poor rabbit, half starved, would rather have pats than food!”

According to Nichols, Phoebe had been a victim of “bunny mill” abuse – the less common known subjugation of “puppy mills,” in which this breed of rabbits are used to produce “meat rabbits” for commerce. Phoebe has a v-notched cut in her ear, typically used by meat rabbit producers to differentiate the breeders from the “food.” Phoebe also had thick masses of scabs on the back of her neck – indications of repeated mating (the buck rabbit will grab hold of the does skin while mating.) Nichols was disgusted by, not only the obvious signs of neglect and abuse, but by the fact, that the owners of the livestock auction would accept a rabbit in this detrimental state of health – not to mention an obviously pregnant one at that, considering she gave birth the same day as she was auctioned off. According to Nichols, State Animal Cruelty Laws need to be reexamined in accordance to Maine Livestock Auctions. A note about enforcement: Your local and state police are generally mandated to enforce all laws in your state, including animal cruelty, even if these laws are not included in your state’s penal code—contact them if you witness animal cruelty, including neglect, or have information regarding an incident of animal cruelty in your area.

Public awareness of this situation has had a rather surmountable reaction by friends of CCRR’s Facebook Page, with nearly 700 “Likes” and can be viewed at: https://www.facebook.com/CottontailCottageRabbitRescue

For more information on Cottontail Cottage Rabbit Rescue go to: http://www.ccrabbitrescue.org or contact them by email at: cottontailcottagerr@gmail.com. Snail Mail to: CCRR, 21 Cottontail Lane, Lamoine, Maine 04605