A local gay man helps rescue and care for bunnies at North Texas Rabbit Sanctuary

DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer
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The North Texas Rabbit Sanctuary began in 1993 with “one bunny my husband had seen” in a pet store, founder Barbara Yule explained. “Not a good situation. Then a vet found me [and] I ended up with 26” rabbits.

Yule decided that if she was going to start a rabbit sanctuary, it needed to be self-sustaining. So now she, along with volunteers like Anthony Madrid, do adoptions, sell hay and other bunny food along with litter, cages and a variety of supplies.

They also board bunnies when owners are away.

Madrid said he got involved in 2008 after his boyfriend sent him a picture of a bunny and said, “I always wanted a rabbit.” Since he knew they’d have rabbits one day, he decided to learn about them. That led him to Yule’s rabbit sanctuary where he became hooked and quickly went from volunteer to board member.

Yule said there are about 50 breeds of rabbits, but said “They’re just bunnies to us.” Madrid added that they have no way of knowing if the rabbits they receive are pure bred or mixed breeds. They just love them all equally and try to find them good homes.

There are a couple of breeds, though, that are pretty distinctive and recognizable. They have one rescue with a sizable “mane” that Madrid said looks like the lionhead breed. And two others that have so much hair you can’t tell where their heads are, he said, are probably angoras.

“They each have a personality of their own, and [they] don’t all do well with little children,” Yule said of the rabbits, warning that rabbits tend to kick or even bite if they’re frightened or hurt.

“Hold them like a baby,” Madrid said, demonstrating how to cradle the animals’ feet with one hand to keep them from kicking.

There are a lot of other things people should know about rabbits before buying or adopting one as a pet. For instance, Madrid said, when rabbits mate, it’s often for life. In fact, several happily bonded pairs currently live at the sanctuary, and they wouldn’t split them up. Domesticated rabbits that are kept indoors may live 10 to 12 years.

While different breeds of rabbits may interbreed, rabbits and hares are actually different species and can’t interbreed. Hares tend to be larger, with longer hind legs and ears, and are less social than rabbits. Rabbits remain the same color all year, while hares get a lighter coat in summer.

Hares gestate for 42 days, while a rabbit’s pregnancy lasts only 30 days. Hares live entirely above ground, while rabbits — other than cottontails — burrow to breed. Rabbits hide from predators underground while hares tend to run from whatever is hunting them.

One thing both species have in common: they both have quite a few predators. “They’re the bottom of the food chain,” Yule said.

Hares aren’t good pets because they don’t do well in captivity.

Madrid said rabbits, on the other hand, can be great pets. They can be trained to use a litter box (the litter the rescue has available is a natural product and not the same as cat litter, by the way).

“Some are better at [using a litter box] than others,” he said. “Spaying and neutering helps fix that problem.”

He recommends spaying and neutering rabbits being kept inside as pets, noting that “Females get mean and males spray when they’re not fixed.”

Rabbits are also trainable — although you aren’t going to get them to sit or offer a paw to shake. They do love their craisins, though, and some can be taught to get in their pen by shaking a box of craisins and then giving them a few as a treat.

Madrid said if anyone who’s never owned a rabbit before is interested in adopting, the rescue staff and volunteers can show you how to set up a pen and how to bunny-proof your home. If you have other pets, they’ll also show you how to introduce a rabbit to the other animals.

North Texas Rabbit Sanctuary adopts out 60 to 70 rabbits a year. They’re adoptable at five months, but Yule said closer to a year is better.

She said finding a vet who specializes in bunnies isn’t the challenge it once was in the Dallas area. City Vet on Oak Lawn Avenue does a great job with them.

North Texas Rabbit Sanctuary is located in Garland. If you are interested in adopting a rabbit, check their website at NTRS.org. To schedule an appointment, ask questions or inquire about adopting contact by email at [email protected]