I am often asked how did I get involved rehoming rabbits and guinea pigs so I thought here we go. The story may become a serial, may even seem like an autobiography. Being an only child, I was very lucky as we always had a house full of pets; dogs, budgies, fish and of course a rabbit or two. I made it very obvious to my parents, brothers and sisters were not an option. I just loved animals. I always thought these were my pets.
Looking back, I was no different from children of today. My mum looked after, fed and cleaned them all. The only difference was my mum, like most mums those days, did not go to work and she took care of me and the pets.
We lived in a three-storey house in a cobbled street called Bargate. Across the road we played in an area we called Paradise. It was just that. In a large orchard a man called Walter Adams had rabbits running free. I thought it was wonderful and my memories are very vivid and happy.
However, as I got older, I realized these rabbits were bred for meat and pelt, as it was just after the war and in those days it was poor man’s chicken. I will not let that shatter my happy memories.
It wasn’t until John and I had been married quite a few years that I said I would like a rabbit as a pet. We already had a budgie and a dog and both working full time. We thought long and hard. Being so wet behind the ears, we went to a breeder, who was as I now realize, ruthless, uncaring and greedy. The rabbit we named Peter sadly died while very young, of Mucroid Enterophy. (Diarrhoea). We then got a Dwarf Sooty Fawn Lop, another male named Tinker Bun, he had a lovely temperament. Again, being naive, I did not have him castrated and he was bonking mad and dislocated and broke his back. A very sad end to a lovely, young bunny.
Our third rabbit introduced us to the first rescue rabbit and eventually Pet Rescue and Bunny Burrows. His name was Benjamin, a grey and white Dwarf Lop. He came from a very strange breeder in Carlisle. We had him castrated and he became our first full-time house bunny. Quite a character. He loved to prune the garden, especially the small willow tree and the sage.
One day in March 1997, it seems like ages ago now, a friend who used to foster cats for the RSPCA asked me if I would take her to Great Ayton RSPCA with a cat. I told John if I contacted him about rehoming any animal, he had to say, NO. By this time my late mother’s dog Spot and the tortoise had moved in with us and I also had an aquarium. “OK,” said John, as I drove off in my blue Fiat Panda.
When we arrived we landed unknowingly on the film set for Pet Rescue. Lots of people milling around the dogs and cats. But I ended up, yes, alongside the rabbits making friends through the wire with this cute lop-eared female. Dressed in rabbit socks, jacket covered in rabbit badges, trousers with rabbits on, earrings, key ring all with rabbits, a film crew descended on me and asked if I was interested in rabbits??!! My statement ‘I am BONKERS ABOUT BUNNIES!!’
“Are you interested in that rabbit you are fussing? ”
“Yes,” I said, “I think she would make a nice companion for Benjamin.” (Again naive, now I know you just can’t choose a friend).
“What will your husband say?”
“Oh he’s a pushover.” I rang John. He said, “NO.” But I am an only child. NO is not a word I am used to. Being told earlier they had problems rehoming rabbits made me feel quite sad. I drove home, put my pet lip out and my devil’s horns appeared with temper. I attacked John with lots of abuse as to why he had said no. “What did you tell me to say?” he replied. Why this time did he take notice of me?
“If you want to fill the house with rabbits, then do so, I don’t mind,” he said.
We rang Great Ayton to be told the rabbit had found a home within hours of my being there. Was I disappointed?
Forty-eight hours later, we received a phone call from a lady called Sally, one of the researchers for Pet rescue, enquiring if I was still interested in another rabbit. They had a female lop-eared house rabbit that had been brought to the centre, due to a marriage break-up. The rabbit was looking for a new home and they were looking for a story.
I asked how old she was, she was three. I thought she was much too old. (NAIVE AGAIN WET BEHIND THE EARS).
“Too old?” said John, “You’re 50 and I haven’t said you’re too old!”
We went to have a look at her and fell in love. The only problem was, we had to collect her and be filmed doing so.
From the first day of filming they nicknamed me BONKERS ABOUT BUNNIES.
The day we went to see the female rabbit, a house rabbit looking for a home, was a Sunday. It seems like yesterday, all so clear. She had been left at the RSPCA lock, stock and hutch with her of course far too small as she was quite a big, golden girl lop. Love at first sight. Can we take her like now I asked? OH NO! We need to film on Tuesday. Sheer misery but we agreed bearing in mind we had not had a home check.
Arriving at Great Ayton with film crew, cameras etc was quite an experience. John and myself with the setting of the Cleveland hills behind us; little did we know this was to be the start of an amazing adventure. The times we walked through the gate, cameras rolling, the gate would bang, one of us still outside and ll had to start again. When the staff member tried to get the rabbit out, that took forever but eventually she ended up in my arms enjoying a much needed love. We decided to call her Brandy as she was such a lovely golden colour with a very calming nature. This started the naming of the pets at the time after drinks. We even named one T Bag. Would she live happily with Benjamin that was the question?
The film crew had made plans to come to our home on the Saturday to film the sequel. Luckily it was a nice sunny day in March. The crew were great and we had such fun. They would film Brandy hopping down the path to the front door on harness and lead, something I would not do now. It was so funny. She bobbed along and bobbed in as happy as Larry 2 or 3 times. Cameras roll, bob bob, sit on the lawn, have a wee, won’t move. It took forever.
Next stop, into the garden to meet Benjamin, bearing in mind I had never before paired up rabbits. Low and behold they were in love at first sight. I think she thought better make this happen or they might take me back.
Brandy and Benjamin were forever in love and she started the Bunny Burrows rehoming programme. At this stage we did not have a title as there was never an intention to do what we do now.
July 1997 John and I went away in the caravan and stayed in Somerset for 7 weeks with 2 dogs, Jade our Welsh Springer Spaniel and Spot a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel belonging to my late mother, 2 rabbits Benjamin and Brandy and one tortoise named Pal, he has belonged to me for 38 years, bought for one pound in Colchester Market. As you can imagine we were the talk of the camp site. We were very lucky as the wardens of the site became very close friends and it all worked very well. That was to be our last caravan holiday and much enjoyed. Stories of our holiday trips reached the Pet Rescue crew and an article appeared in a book called PET RESCUE FAVOURITE TALES written by Jean MacFarlane. The article was called CARAVAN CAPERS and the story follows:
Gwen and John Butler can’t bear to be without their pets and even take them away on holiday. They’re part of our life, says John. They’ve been with us all year and it seems only right they should come with us when we take a break. Besides, if we left them behind we would miss them terribly and wouldn’t enjoy ourselves at all.
Considering caravan sites to be more pet friendly than many hotels, the Butlers bought a 20-foot caravan and the extended family of two dogs, two rabbits and a tortoise called Pal enjoy a couple of vacations a year. Things have usually gone smoothly, except on one occasion when Gwen was talking to a fellow caravanner and the woman suddenly screamed in alarm, she’d thought the rabbit sitting on their TV was a cuddly toy and had got the fright of her life when it moved.
I’ve never heard anyone scream so loudly, says John. Most of the pets that people bring to the site are cats and dogs and she clearly wasn’t expecting to see a bunny. But we gave her a strong cup of tea and fortunately, she got over her shock reasonably quickly.
The Butlers’ favourite destination is a site close to Taunton in Somerset, over 300 miles from their North Yorkshire home. As one of their dogs, Spot, an elderly Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, doesn’t travel well, on their vet’s advice they give him a sedative before the journey and set off just after midnight so they meet as few hold-ups as possible on the way. It was just over a year ago that the Butlers and their animals went on their last caravan break. They had not been travelling long when, at around 1 a.m., John saw the flashing blue lights of a police car coming up behind. He quickly realised why: as members of the local neighbourhood watch, their vehicle was carrying a sticker entitling police to stop it between midnight and 6 a.m., in case it had been stolen and a thief was driving it away.
The police officer shone his torch inside the car, first on a sleeping Gwen and next on the two dogs curled up close by. Then, catching sight of something he didn’t expect in the torch’s beam, he said, Good God! What’s that? They’re our rabbits, John explained. And what’s that? said the officer. That’s our tortoise, said John. Mmmm, said the officer. It’s quite clear to me that you’re not pinching caravans, and waved them on their way.
On returning from our holiday from Somerset in 1998, we fell in love with yet another rabbit at RSPCA Great Ayton. An agouti dwarf lop male. He was so appealing because he looked a real scruffy boy. At the time we named all the furries after alcoholic drinks. We named him Whisky. While there, a very sad guinea pig had just come in. He was in quite a sad state in those days. I had not a clue about guinea pigs as I had never had one as a pet in my youth. Guinea Pigs were not common as pets. He was quite a character, a Himalayan but with serious fur mites. Again, being very naive I thought Whisky and the guinea pig now named Simple would live together. No chance. It was disaster from the start even though Mark Evans of Pet Rescue fame thought it was worth a try. The third pet we collected was a long-haired hamster, one of many from the centre, an unwanted litter. This little creature we named Soda. Again I had never had a hamster so a whole new experience. Again on Mark Evans’ advice Soda had the most fantastic Des Res accommodation. We built his cage over an unused aquarium filled with peat. How he enjoyed tunnelling his way through, foraging for food. As things were going, outside accommodation for the rabbits was not ideal. Being an only child I had certain belongings of my late father’s namely a violin, banjo, regimental drum clock and books. The decision was made to auction these to pay for a shed. The auction took place on the 4th November 1998. The shed had already been ordered and was to be erected on the following day. The goods raised four hundred and thirty nine pounds, the shed cost four hundred and fifty pounds. Fate! Things have changed over the years but the original hutches are still in place with many coats of white emulsion paint to freshen them up. The amount of rabbits and guinea pigs that have come and gone over the years is amazing. I have been asked many times over the years if I disagree about rabbits living outside. Well actually, no. I have no problem with that. I personally don’t fancy cleaning out hutches in the cold, wet, windy weather. Also I feel the animals are part of the family when they are undercover and indoors. My intention was never to rescue and rehome small furries. After 29 years in the shoe trade, being made redundant, gave me the opportunity to do what I had always wanted to do and that was run a small croft business from here sewing and selling goods. I called the business TO HAVE AND TO HOLD, after spending so many hours at a sewing machine. Doing what I do now is totally unrelated. It is 16 years since redundancy and now 10 years since my change of lifestyle. I never thought in my wildest dreams I would appear so many times on TV, radio, in newspapers and magazines. Now topping 4 full albums of cuttings and many video tapes we keep promising to put on to DVD to hand to many friends, making a story of the past 10 years.
Meeting Mark Evans, Vet and TV personality was such a great time. While filming with Pet Rescue he spent time with us at home and he was such a fan. Such a prangster, I remember one time he told all the film crew they had to remove their shoes before they came into the house. When they went to put their shoes back on he had filled them with peanuts that we used to feed the wild birds.
Another time he fell fast asleep on the couch with the King Charles Spot on his chest. I always remember one of the comments he made after listing all the pets we had, he said my parents should have named me Noah. He was a very nice guy to work with and he certainly had a way with the animals they just warmed to him and he got the best from them.
Being so involved with Pet Rescue in the very early days was such an amazing experience. The amount of hours the film crew spent just to get 5 minutes footage was unbelievable. Four or six people would arrive and virtually take over the house. They would re-arrange furniture and ornaments for the benefit of the cameras. Bring plant tubs in from the garden and put them down wherever they thought fit, soil and all. When the lights were rigged and switched on the wheel on the electric meter would spin out of control. We always set up a buffet for the day so they could continue filming, tea and coffee on tap. At the end of it all you signed a piece of paper and you were given one pound so that gave them the rights to the film. We were then left to re-arrange and tidy up, and wash the pots. Still an experience we are so lucky to have had.
The result of all the Pet Rescue filming ended with a very special honour to me. A phone call asking me if I could go to RSPCA Centre in Portsmouth November 1998. For what purpose I asked. I was told I was to receive the Pet Rescue Award of the Year. Shell-shocked and yes speechless, I thought it was a wind up and actually put the phone down. They rang straight back and assured me it was for real. Wow! I told them how thrilled I was but said I refused to wear a frock. Little did I know what was to happen before this took place. They wanted to film us at home with a group of friends so they could talk about me for the TV.
In late October we decorated the garage with camouflage nets, Christmas decorations, bales of straw to sit on and Christmas music. The reason being the programme was going out before Christmas that year. So we had our first taste of Christmas in October and left the garage decorated until January. Making the best of it, we had a party every week to fundraise.
Our trip to the Ark in Portsmouth was great. We had a hire car and drove down with 2 rabbits, Benjamin and Brandy. We stayed in a very nice hotel, animal friendly. In other rooms were other award winners; one with her dog, another with his gerbils. This was on November 16th 1998.
A very early start in the morning to the Ark to do the filming in a barn decorated for Christmas. Wendy Turner and Mark Evans did the interview and presentation. The award was so nice, wood with a brass paw print on it. It still has pride of place in my living room. We continued for many years putting decorations up in early November in the garage and conservatory and having small parties. That was until the garage had to be taken over with hutches for bunnies!
This publicity led to so much newspaper and TV coverage. The news of the Award made the tabloids. A great article in the Express. Even a very strange picture and article in Big Issue, December of that year. The actual programme went on air late December and I must say I was very pleased with the result.
We followed up with another meeting with Mark Evans in the January when we attended the Bradford Championship Show in Doncaster. As a result of the award I spoke with Burgess Supafeeds to see if they would consider sponsorship for Bunny Burrows. They kindly said yes and still continue to sponsor and help us in many ways. They also sponsor the show so as a result we were invited and still attend every January. However, the venue is now Harrogate, a very enjoyable 2 days.
A greeting card company called Farm Life approached us asking if they could use some of our animals for greeting and postcards. The company, based in Cumbria, came and photographed Bucks Fizz our little Netherland Dwarf and also the two tortoise. These were then used for adding to their list of merchandise.
As the year ended a new 1999 started and I sadly lost my mother at the age of 81. The animals took up so much of my time during those sad days, it made me stronger and able to cope. Being an only child I was very close to my parents. They both loved animals and I knew they would have been very pleased with the decisions I made to look after these special furries. W hen all was sorted I decided to do the same with my mother’s few possessions and sell them, as I had done with my fathers and that was to pay for another building.
By this time Bunny Burrows was as one might say ‘growing like topsy’. We started planning to do away with all flower beds and convert the top half of the garden into a concrete area with a six foot high fence all round for safety and privacy, finished off by another building to put more hutches in. This made a total of 28 hutches, not including the few house rabbits. We decided to have a grand opening on the Saturday of the August Bank Holiday weekend.
August 1999! Gosh that seems a lifetime away and yet the memory of Bank Holiday Saturday is so clear. We had rain all week and here we are in the middle of preparations of a mega party, an Open Day to show the world how serious we were to make a difference to the rabbit and guinea pig world.
Burgess had launched The Supa Rabbit of the Year competition. It had been won by a rabbit called Flopsy. The owner Deborah from Derbyshire was profoundly deaf and Flopsy helped Cinders her Hearing Dog for the Deaf companion by alerting Deborah when the doorbell rang. The plan was, the prize would be presented at our event so we expected Press coverage.
The Army loaned us tents; one to be placed on our drive on entrance with a mega Tombola into the garage which was full of food, yes we fed all 250 guests on a running buffet! The second tent was placed on the sports field behind our house so we could walk through the garden into the tent to sit and natter (kind permission of the school). The stress leading up to the event nearly finished me. I was presented with 2 toilet rolls from friend Jude. I couldn’t stay off the loo.
The morning came, brilliant, red hot sunshine. What a relief! We asked the police to come and place No Parking cones so as not to offend the neighbours. The Mayor of Richmond came and unveiled a plaque dedicating the new building to Benjamin and Brandy, the two rabbits that started this whole rescue centre experience. Frances Harcourt-Brown came and cut the red ribbon to open the top building. When the ceremonies were over the party began. The whole day was a great success. A total of 12 vets visited and whilst which us all rescue bunnies had their VHD vaccine given by Frances in her smart outfit with two other vets, Rebecca and Hannah. The vaccine was going to be wasted because a fridge at a vets had broken and the vaccine was donated.
By 10.30 at night, tents were taken down, the whole place was tidied up with an army of volunteers. Friendships were made and still are members of the Bunny Burrows group. This was a one-off event never to be repeated and a day to look back on. No damage, nothing missing, attended by people who love animals – our sort of friends.
After opening our home to such a selection of Bunny Lovers in August 1999 it was time to open our home and hearts to the following thousands of rabbits and guinea pigs that were to follow over the years.
The RSPCA asked us to look after a pair of cruelty case rabbits as they would be taking the owner to court. These creatures had been starved, were emaciated and only a third of their weight. Almost a year later they went to court. I was asked to give evidence, luckily I did not need to appear as he pleaded guilty and was banned from keeping animals for three years and it cost him almost £1000. One of the rabbits had lost a front leg, we called her Hops, the other we called Scotch in those days the names were all alcohol related.
Our garage was decorated every year, at least six weeks before Christmas. The walls were covered with camouflage nets which were then covered with masses of decorations. We had weekly coffee evenings to fund raise. One particular Saturday evening, Kylie, Hayley, John and myself were sat on bales of straw when a visitor arrived with a hutch no more than three feet long. They had travelled from Ripon. Inside the hutch were two fully grown Angora rabbits. I have never seen so much filth attached to two animals. They were actually joined together by the hair on their legs. The smell was so pungent it made us feel sick. The three of us set to and clipped the filth with scissors to reveal two adorable sisters. John kept us supplied with tea and tissues for three hours. Those bunnies eventually went to live as house bunnies in Derbyshire.
In the year 2000 we started working with Burgess Supafeeds who supplied us with part of our dry food in return we attended and still do attend events on an educational platform. As time went by I realised education was and always would be the backbone of Bunny Burrows. The hope for the future was to be able to afford to take any small furries that needed special long term attention.
In March 2004, Pet Rescue once again came to film and they appreciated the need for education and actually filmed part of an episode with us at a local school. Not a lot was learnt on that visit as the excitement of the cameras took president on that occasion but the amount of schools visited since is countless.
Later in March, a very special bunny came into our lives. Sadly his stay was short but very meaningful. He was a case that even shocked the vet, Francis Harcourt-Brown. A call from the RSPCA requested us to take care of a long haired rabbit. They had shaved all his fur off due to severe matting. At the time David Beckham had changed his hair style, big time, and his story hit the headlines, so we thought this little bunny should share in the glory. We named him Beckham. Bless him, he was completely bald except his head and his tail looked like a pipe cleaner. His stay hit the local papers. His life was short and he died soon after with severe tape worm abscesses. His life was not in vain as Francis Harcourt-brown actually used his photos to inform the veterinary profession in the publication of her book.
From the vast amount of publicity in the Northern Echo and the Darlington and Stockton Times, the editor, Peter Barron, found out about Bunny Burrows. He, his wife and five children turned up at Bunny Burrows and rehomed two rabbits as their family pets. This started many stories in his ‘Dad at Large’ column in the Northern Echo, which resulted in a book of the same name. Some of the stories were most amusing but also owning rabbits brought some sad endings.
Little did I know meeting Peter Barron, the editor of the Northern Echo, would give Bunny Burrows National and International fame. February 2001 the Barron Family needed a female companion bunny to live with Aladdin after Jasmine had died. They contacted us and we had a female called Tallulah. She was a black and white Dwarf Lop, spayed and ready to rehome. She had had surgery to remove a fold of skin near her ‘personal parts’. The reason was simple; to leave the large pleat of skin would cause risk of infection and major discomfort, with an even greater risk of fly strike.
Peter being a media mogul saw a story in Tallulah. The operation having a complicated technical term to the commoner like myself is called a ‘Tummy Tuck’. Headlines in the Echo read, ‘Cosmetic Surgery For Fat Bunny Girl’. Digesting advice about fighting pet flab just grabbed the media. The phone rang continually for days, radio interviews all over the country and indeed abroad. Why? … Because the public believed the operation had been done to make the rabbit thinner. It really got very silly. Articles appeared in The Times, Express, even a newspaper in Tenerife printed the story but they actually photographed a totally different bunny. An appearance on Yorkshire T.V. News was scheduled, that meant a trip to Leeds with Tallulah. Peter also used the story for his ‘Dad At Large’ column in The Northern Echo. To this day I get phone calls from magazines and many forms of media asking about Tallulah and her tummy tuck. The strange thing is we have had the operation done so many times before and since Tallulah. When Peter launched his second Dad At Large book in May, so many columns referred to visits and the bunnies from Bunny Burrows, including Tallulah. An invitation to the book launch was an enjoyable occasion.
March 2001 saw the launch of our own website, we were approached by Communigate who were then part of The Northern Echo. The website would be free but of course we would need somebody with computer knowledge. That ruled me out; I can’t even switch a computer on. John is a little more experienced but not to the standard of being a webmaster. How lucky we are to have friends Kaz and Jill. Kaz a computer wiz was asked to help, well, to this day she and Jill run the website and have now under taken a second site for Bunny Burrows. We have many thousands of visitors to the sites and they are updated weekly with Charlotte’s Diary telling the world the whereabouts and doings of John and myself and the Bunny Burrows Furries.
The website has been a great asset and something we are very proud of thanks to special friends and supporters, Kaz and Jill. So good is our Communigate site that we won ‘Site of the Month’ prize.
As mentioned, we have Charlotte’s Diary, this was named after a very special rabbit we named Charlotte. At the time of the foot and mouth outbreak in April 2001, a phone call from a vet in Northallerton had us hot footing to collect a rabbit that had been thrown out of a moving car. The rabbit, a Medium Martin Sable had a badly formed back leg due to an old injury that had not been treated, front teeth so badly formed she could not eat. She was an absolute bag of bones but so adorable. We named her Charlotte, Tottie for short. A visit to Francis the vet to have her spayed and front teeth removed was organised. Her back leg was quite badly injured with a massive ulcer on her heel. After many X-Rays it was decided not to remove it but to tidy the leg up and see what the future would hold. Charlotte lived in our house free range with Picasso, another toothless gem of a bunny. She loved him to bits. She loved to travel in the car sitting on the front seat; she never needed a carry basket. John and I went to visit family in Colchester and Charlotte travelled on my knee the whole distance. Whilst travelling we hit a traffic jam, the sunroof and windows of the car were open as it was very hot. We were driving alongside a large lorry and the driver looked down and said he had seen many weird and wonderful things but never a bunny passenger. He was so surprised he told his mates further down the road and as we passed them they all looked and shouted in surprise. Charlotte was so loving and very special; she visited many events and told her story to so many people.
Over the next few months many offers of fundraising came forward, from a sponsored sky dive to the Great North Run and Pauline Nelson who worked for Sainsburys asked them to donate one hundred pound as her nominated Heroes.
From the start I had always wanted Bunny Burrows to have charitable status. The reason ? I wanted the public to believe in Bunny Burrows, to realise this was a serious venture, not just a whim. Luckily our friend Jenny had a niece who was a solicitor and she wanted to further her career by setting up charities. Aunty Jenny set Anne the task and thanks to them Bunny Burrows was on the way to being a charity. So much paper work, so many questions to be answered, I think without the professional help we would have fallen at the first hurdle. When the news came through in January 2002 I was so excited, Charity 1090006 was us, Bunny Burrows.
Our first outing as a registered charity was to the National Association of Gifted Children at a venue in Leeds. Quite daunting as highly intelligent children asking questions you hoped you were able to answer. One of the children informed that guinea pigs’ teeth could grow so much and so fast they would grow through their brain and out of the top of their head. He was seven years old. Well, would you believe it? NO !
Our charitable status spurred us to organise an event to be held prior to Easter. It was decided to use Richmond market hall, right in the centre of the town. We decided to hire some of the stalls to other traders and we would do the refreshments, tombola and a few other fund raising stalls. There was to be an area set aside for furries to be hugged, admired and talked about, it was all very exciting. As all my friends know, when I get excited and stressed I spend a lot of time in the toilet, so one of my friends gave me a gift, two toilet rolls, gift wrapped of course. The event would be called, ‘The Hot X Bunny Day’.
The local paper and radio gave us lots of publicity and the day March 24th 2002 was set. It was a rip roaring success and it was decided to make it an annual event. A fun day with a party atmosphere but also a serious side being the need to fund animals so in need of love, care, a good home and veterinary treatment.
Easter always seems to be a sad time for bunnies, so many are bought as presents for young children. Rabbits are totally unsuitable pets for children of nursery school age. A request to take the furries to a nursery in Thirsk seemed an ideal opportunity to get the message over to young and old … “Don’t have a rabbit as a pet for a toddler!” This sparked off many visits to schools, nurseries and other groups such as Brownies, Guides, Rainbows and after school clubs. The challenge is holding the attention for youngsters to understand these are not cuddly toys or computer games. Over the years we have had lots of practice and know which furries can cope with screeches of excitement and sticky hands and tantrums when choosing which ones to take with us. I do believe you need to target the young to get the message across. The enjoyable side of visiting groups of people is visiting nursing homes. It is so rewarding to see their faces when they smile with no teeth in (that’s the residents of course) when you put a bunny or a guinea pig on their knees. Sometimes they think it’s a cat but who cares as long as they stroke them and it brings a calm aura around them. Sometimes the residents fall asleep while hugging a bunny, that makes the visit all worthwhile. The stories flow about their children having pets or themselves so often losing their much loved pet. How often they tell me of their pet rabbits going missing and mother giving them rabbit pie for lunch. Did I want to hear that ? NO ! Time to go home John !
So often it is thought rabbits only live together if they are the same breed or at least the same size. I use an example of Faberge and Bucks Fizz. These two bunnies were so in love. Faberge was a very large black and white French lop eared girl and Bucks Fizz a small smokey grey Netherland Dwarf. He loved Fabby the minute he set eyes on her but she was very indifferent about the whole thing. After they had both been neutered they were together for the rest of their lives. He being so small was the boss and she was happy with that arrangement.
Wherever we took them they were show stoppers. We attended a Pets Pets Pets Road Show at Harewood House, a very busy weekend event where Fabby and Bucks Fizz were little stars both days. One lady asked if Faberge was one rabbit, John said, “No, we have stitched three together for the event.” The lady turned to her friend and said, “I told you it wasn’t one rabbit.” Fabby weighed nine kilos but was an absolute gem, a gentle giant. Sadly both have now gone over the Rainbow Bridge and are very much missed.
In April 2002 we had the first of many orphaned baby bunnies brought for hand rearing. These were wild rabbits, one had been found on the roadside with a leg wound, the other in a car park with its litter mates. This was to be a challenge feeding these tiny creatures. It was both time consuming and frustrating using tepid full cream goat’s milk and a mikki mothering kit seemed to be the best combination, teamed with four hourly feeds, including during the night. Many rescues seem to think powdered formula milk is best but the little ones suckle so fast the milk can flood their lungs causing them to sneeze. Powdered milk dries in the nostrils and causes suffocation but with goat’s milk it just splashes everywhere. One of these wild bunnies survived but became too tame to rehabilitate. He stayed at BB, we eventually had him neutered and called him ‘Wild-Thing’. He was such a character and played with make do toys like plastic plant pots and using the many plastic drain pipes in his run as his ready made burrow.
We were invited to an event at RAF Leeming in June 2002 and the airmen had rigged up a large tent for the event. Charlotte of course was to be the star attraction. All was fine until the local bird of prey sanctuary turned up and started flying the hawks and owls. I have never shut a tent door so quickly in my life. It made me very aware from then on to ask any fete, gala or event if they had invited birds of prey.Charlotte lived happily with the most loving of boy bunnies, Picasso. He came to live with us during the previous November. He arrived with his brother but they didn’t get on. He was a dwarf lop with a health problem; the dreadful e-cuniculi. This parasite in the brain is now more understood by the veterinary profession and the use of Panacur accepted with the introduction of rabbit Panacur now.
Picasso suffered from the day he arrived, he used to spin in his litter tray, unable to get his balance. He had the cutest head tilt, he melted your heart. His condition used to stress us more than him. Having the space running around the house kept him happy and Charlotte adored him. He was such a character, often to be seen around the house carrying pieces of paper in his mouth with his cute head tilt. If he could find a £5 or £10 note amongst the paperwork I would be sorting on the floor he would be really proud. One day I had a phone call from a woman to say she was on her way with her holiday bunny. I was shocked as I had no record of this holiday rabbit … Why? Because Picasso had taken the paper work and hidden it behind the settee.
The Musical Time Machine were a group of people based in Hurworth near Darlington. The group used their talent to fund raise for charities and August 2001 was the first gig they did for Bunny Burrows. This was held at Hurworth Grange and was a great success. It was agreed to follow up with a Boogie For The Bunnies Night in Richmond Cricket Club. Although it was not so well attended the night was good fun with people jiving and twisting ‘till late.
Jade our Welsh Springer Spaniel had always been the apple of our eye in the doggy world. She shared her life with my late mother’s dog Spot. Spot was a King Charles Spaniel and like Jade was kind and loving to all the furry residents. Loosing Spot after having him four years was heart breaking for us all. However, fate again stepped in with a call from Saltburn Animal Rescue to say one of their volunteers had a male King Charles called Sam who was looking for a kind, loving, and stable home. They thought we fitted the bill. This was not a decision we could take lightly as we not only had to consider Jade’s feelings but would he fit in with the many human visitors and more important, the Bunny Burrow Furries. He came on a Friday morning on the understanding that if it didn’t work out he would go back. As if! He sat on the stairs, viewed all he was about to own and never looked back. He was unsure of the rabbits only because they bossed and bullied him but he was an absolute treasure.
Picasso being the character he was frightened us all one day as we were cleaning the aquarium out. We were filling large plastic containers with clean water to put the fish in from the tank and we stood them on the floor and covered them with towels. SPLASH! Picasso was in with the fish, out again and running soaking wet around the house. What a mess! Thankfully the fish and Picasso were none the worse for their experience.
John and I had a break in Wales, staying in a chalet with some friends and as we had a very sad rabbit with e-cuniculi we decided to take him with us. His name was Kevin aka Kev the Rev. He really enjoyed the holiday and took over the shower room as his living quarters and as he was the only bunny he was given lots of love and attention. He eventually went to live with Kaz and Jill as he was like so many ‘special needs’ rabbits and guinea pigs who are not rehomeable.
A special young rabbit came to us, he was only eight weeks old and his little legs were quite badly paralysed. A family in Catterick Garrison had a litter of babies and as children do, kept picking the babies out of the nest and dropped this white bundle of fluff causing his legs to be deformed. We called him Zodiac and our friend Geoff called him Snowflake. This little bunny was an inspiration, he was so loving. Geoff calls on Tuesday and Friday mornings as he collects the vegetables from Morrisons for us and he spent every spare minute hugging Zodiac. Geoff has a very large beard and moustache and one day he fell asleep with Zodiac under his chin. We all found it difficult to keep a straight face as Zodiac had crept under Geoff’s beard and eaten half of his moustache.
October and yet another wild rabbit in need of TLC. Wild Thing had been neutered and was living with a wild female bunny named Trog who had been spayed. The third bunny had been taken to a vet in Darlington as it had been hit by a car making him partially sighted and brain damaged. This caused him to have severe fits; he was so tiny and helpless but a fighter. He was looked after by the Kensington Vets in Darlington so he was named Kensington. Here we are in 2010 and thankfully he is still a little fighter. He has a happy life, having an occasional ‘funny turn’ but so long as his living accommodation is not changed he managed just fine. He spent the first part of his long life living with Zodiac
In November Paul Wilson Vets opened their new practice in Bishop Auckland. This was an amazing big building, very well designed and we were asked to take some of the BB Furries to meet the public. Yet again Charlotte stole the show and the botanist and conservationist, David Bellamy, opened the practice and she had her photo taken with him.
Sadly all of the positive happenings over the years were to come to a bitter end. WHY? The neighbours were on the war path. This was to be a miserable Christmas; the neighbours had decided they didn’t want Bunny Burrows to exist. Somehow it seemed to interfere with their lives and they made it difficult for us to have visitors, even friends. We had been doing this for seven years now and suddenly they decided to hammer on our bedroom walls. The final straw was the council insisted we had to apply for planning permission; not for any structural change to our home but the change of use seemed to be the issue. How lucky we were to find, quite by chance, a solicitor who brings her rabbits to stay with us when she goes on holiday who specialises in planning and the problems of planning law. What a relief to have someone like Frank on our side helping us to fight to save for what we believe in. We spent Christmas wondering what we would do without Bunny Burrows.
When starting Bunny Burrows all those 15 years ago I was passionate about rabbits and desperate to learn about their health, habits and wellbeing. I knew how special these little and large creatures were but found it difficult to find a vet that had the knowledge and shared the passion. When Francis Harcourt-Brown was recommended to me I knew after one appointment I had hit the jackpot. The aim as Bunny Burrows was to educate and I felt the way forward was to ensure every rabbit had a fighting chance. I would never keep an animal that would or was suffering but to put an animal to sleep when there could be a cure and a quality of life, that is what I wanted and still strive to achieve. A rabbit called Pepsi arrived, an Albino Dwarf Lop, she came with a companion bunny called Max. They came to us from a vet after a bad dose of flystrike. She was quite a cheeky, hormonal female and wouldn’t leave her boy alone. Sadly, one morning she was in dreadful pain; her leg had broken. Off to the vets to be told her operation was possible but would be costly. The only way to learn and for ourselves and the vets to go forward was to have the operation done and try and save the leg. She had an external fixator on her hind leg. This was held with titanium rods. To help keep infection at bay we applied Manouka Honey to the wound, gave her painkiller and antibiotics on a daily basis. Sadly the fixator was unsuccessful and her leg had to be amputated. Such a sad blow after great expense, lots of TLC, her patience and many hours of care. It may have seemed in vain. Not at all, I can assure you. Every cloud has a silver lining and from the experience I learnt never to go down the road again and have a fixator fitted. Just have the leg amputated. These brave little creatures cope fine on three legs; we have had so many since have legs removed. Merlin lived 5 years after amputation. Then there was Hazel, Fern and now we have two living happily at Bunny Burrows with rear legs removed; Hopwood and Fielding. They both have great lives and BOY can they move! So without the experience of Pepsi these buns would no doubt have been put to sleep.
Over the years we have been asked to do amazing events to promote Bunny Burrows. When asked to do an Easter weekend in 2003 at Prince Bishop shopping centre, Durham we didn’t know what to expect. It was a great weekend. A picket fence round a piece of turf on the concrete with a wooden shed and picnic benches was set out for our use. The sun shone and the bunnies were much loved. We shared the area with two pet lambs. The whole event was great but BOY how tired we were as we had had our Hot X Bunny Day the weekend before. Five of our male supporters had their legs waxed so that caused quite a stir. John opted out of the whole experience. I said he was a coward. He said he didn’t have hairy legs!
Being Richmond born and bred the event of the year in the town is the end of May Bank Holiday weekend called the Richmond Meet. The town is full of visitors, fairground and amusements, many activities and on the Monday a Carnival and Fancy Dress Procession. This year it was decided Bunny Burrows would participate. We hired bunny suits, had our faces painted and borrowed a shopping trolley from Tesco. We filled the trolley with cuddly bunny toys, carried a big Bunny Burrow’s banner and placards on stakes and paraded the streets. The whole thing was such fun and to put the icing on the cake, we won the Cup and the Shield for the Best in the Parade. Wow! Was I proud!