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FUN FACTS ABOUT RABBITS

Carrots are like candy: Primarily, rabbits should eat hay, with a small amount of quality pellets thrown in, and plenty of leafy greens. Save the carrots and apple slices for special treats.

House-trained: Rabbits are very clean animals and can be taught to use a litter box.

Snuggle bunnies: Rabbits are indoor pets and very social. They need daily care and attention to keep them emotionally healthy.

Active minds, teeth: Rabbits like toys and games and cardboard boxes to chew on because their teeth are always growing.

The entertaining history of how a mutant rabbit breaks into houses across the United States and leaves baskets of eggs and candy probably goes back to the 1700s, when German immigrants introduced their country’s tradition of “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws,” an egg-laying hare. Children made nests from their caps and bonnets for the creature to lay its colored eggs on.

Three centuries later, we’re still curious about the soft, gentle creatures that sparked the happy tradition we know as the Easter Bunny.

At the inaugural Sonoma County Bunfest last weekend put on by Rohnert Park Animal Services, the slogan was “A day of fun, learning and (of course!) absolute cuteness!”

And the all-things-rabbit-related event lived up to the promise. What’s not to enjoy about a roomful of people wearing colorful bunny ears and shirts with slogans like “Rabbits Make Me Happy” and “Bunny Hugger.” When a couple dozen real rabbits of all shapes, sizes, colors and personalities are added in, it’s easy to see why attendees were smiling and laughing.

Take Ronnie, for example, a classic white rabbit with pink nose and eyes. Ronnie was hopping around, investigating his pen. At one point, he grabbed a colorful ring of plastic baby keys and threw them in the air. “He’s an absolute love,” volunteer Ali Fraser said. “He’s such a friendly guy, he should be a therapy bunny.”

Cathy Wade’s been a rabbit volunteer with RPAS for more than five years. She owns four rabbits and said a major benefit of life with bunnies is, “You get to know the joy and personality of each one.”

She got the idea for Bunfest after attending similar events. The goal of the afternoon, she said, was to educate people about rabbits. Because they’re prey animals, they should be kept indoors, she noted. Rabbits shouldn’t be adopted “on a whim” just because they’re cute, “like the image of kids cuddling a doll.”

Other benefits of rabbits are they’re clean animals and many will train themselves to use a litter box. Also, people who are allergic to dogs or cats are sometimes fine around rabbits.

Michele Teruel, an adoption counselor for the Sonoma Humane Society, was celebrating her 25th birthday at Bunfest. She’s been involved with animal rescue since seventh grade, she said.

Folks who want to adopt rabbits need to do the research, she counseled. As with any animal, adoption is a commitment; rabbits can live 10 to 12 years. If you get your second-grade son a bunny, it could easily be around when he leaves for college.

Rabbits have a specific diet. For example, forget the old rabbits-eat-only-carrots story. While they do like them, Teruel said, “They can’t have many carrots. It’s like handing a kid a Snickers bar.” They do best, she said, when they eat mostly hay, with a small amount of quality rabbit pellets, plenty of dark leafy greens and herbs and a slice of apple or bit of carrot as a treat.

Erin Casteel is a volunteer mentor for Sonoma County Animal Services. “I call myself the head bunny herder,” she said with a grin, noting that one of the most important things to remember about life with a bunny is they’re “very, very social. They need daily care and attention for their emotional health. Sticking them outdoors alone in a hutch doesn’t work.

“They love mental stimulation,” she added. “Toys, games, cardboard boxes to chew on, hard plastic baby toys to throw around.”

Anne Martin of Richmond-based House Rabbit Society, an adoption and education society, said willow and wicker toys are ideal because “rabbits’ teeth are always growing and they need to wear them down.”

Mickey Zeldes, shelter supervisor at RPAS, said they take in about 60 rabbits each year and hold monthly Bunny Days (1-5 p.m. on second Saturdays of the month) where people can visit to see adoptive bunnies at play and interact with them.

“Rabbits are like people,” she said. “They don’t get along with everybody.”

Rabbit owners can also bring their rabbits to interact with those bunnies available for adoption. “They’re meet and greet” events, she said, adding, “A single bunny is a lonely bunny.” Sonoma Humane Society also hosts a Bunny Playground program from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

Spencer Starr from the Mill Valley rescue organization SaveABunny said she’s loved rabbits all her life. Although she didn’t own any until just a few years ago, she now has a bonded pair and said it was worth the wait. “It’s everything I wanted it to be. They’ve got great personalities.”

Starr said homes do need to be bunny-proofed since rabbits love chewing and, like puppies or even babies, investigate everything with their mouths.

“They’re such great pets, silly, loving. They know when I’m sick and give me little licks — bunny kisses.” She added that, unlike cats, rabbits’ tongues are soft and not raspy.

“I’m a crazy bunny lady,” she ended with a smile, “and I’m OK with that.”

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