I love watching her drink. I love watching her eat.

I love watching her flop sideways to the floor, suddenly boneless, and sleep.

And then she leans up and yawns with a tongue that rolls out.

She’s my new composter, and I can’t stop watching her.

Even when she does nothing at all.

The rabbit, a lovable composter

Athena is a Flemish Giant rabbit, in a fairly rare steel color. She is 4 months old and 20 inches long. Raised in an outdoor pen, then transferred to an outdoor hutch to await sale, this outdoor rabbit was brought home and placed in my office. The second day she was here, she voluntarily started using a litter box. The third, she broke out of her 3′ x4′ cage and was so polite, she’s been allowed to roam my office freely ever since.

The Flemish breed are known for their size and friendliness. Whenever Athena hears me or my fella come into the room, she rushes over for attention.

I’d been vacillating over getting a rabbit for almost a year, since I fell in love with a hard-luck rabbit my close friend was given.

Last year, I answered a Craiglist ad from a man who was cleaning out a barn that used to hold several rabbits. I gladly carted the manure home, and filled my garden with the material.

Thus started the most lush and amazing garden I’ve ever had, and sold me on the idea of a rabbit as a green pet, a worker, a helpful critter for an urban gardener.

So now Athena is here. She eats a variety of greens, but devours dandelions. She is a digger, and shreds any paper I give to her. She’s helping to make my garden green, and keeping me company as I work at home.

I just adore her.


Roo from Rabbit Haven

It’s 10:30 a.m. and Susann Brennan already has two new charges at Rabbit Haven in Gig Harbor. A tall man leaves a few bills on the kitchen table and sadly leaves. All is silent from the pet carrier, but amid the fuzzy swaddling inside, two tiny orphans sleep, unaware that they have been gifted with a rare chance to survive.

Sue let us peek at the wild baby cottontails, eyes closed and weighing in at just a few ounces each. “Lucky me,” she says. Normally, her work schedule is from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. the next morning, but for the next month, Sue will be there every two hours, feeding the baby bunnies from tiny bottles and raising them until they can be released in the wild.

Started as a response to animal cruelty in the Northwest, Rabbit Haven began in Sue’s home, housing a few rescued rabbits. Now, the Gig Harbor facility is the largest rabbit rescue in the Northwest. It is responsible for nearly 100 rabbits and additional wildlife, running out of a remodeled barn with outdoor rabbit runs, a sick room, a bird recuperation house, fenced feral rabbit conservatory, and an off-site rabbit sanctuary where older or disabled rabbits can live out the rest of their lives. Sue also acts as a wildlife center halfway house for small animals rescued by the fire department, police and Humane Society.

Touring the Rabbit Haven is a fascinating study of large-scale semi-sufficiency. The non-profit facility runs on donations and volunteers, gaining a little extra income from rabbit boarding and Sue’s hand-sewn Bye-bye Blankets. Sue practices natural and herbal health care, and will gladly trade the amazingly fertile rabbit droppings for vegetables that she can feed to the animals in her care. From the cloudy-metallic siding of the main rabbit stalls to the large, plastic vegetable-shipping crate beds in the sick room, the originally condemned building has been renovated with recycled, unwanted, and end-lot materials into a sassy mix of traditional country and industrial style.

As we were introduced to the various little creatures, we saw the great love and care that is given to each rescued animal. Each rabbit has his or her own personality. They all have sad back stories; Strawberry was born deformed from sloppy breeding and on sale in a pet shop, Lola was abandoned in a field and attacked by dogs. Purfect’s owners couldn’t care for her anymore.

They came in sick, mean, lonely or scared, and Sue and her volunteers at Rabbit Haven have given them a second chance, providing a safe, loving environment to rehabilitate them and get them ready for their new forever homes with adoptive parents. With the care received, these rabbits wiggle and play. They are curious and gentle. Their fur is bright and soft.

Rabbit Haven provides boarding services for rabbits — free boarding for military — as well as giving classes and information on how to build an enjoyable relationship with your pet rabbit. They also offer adoption, if the prospective person can provide two main qualities:

  • One is that an adult wants to be the one to care and love the rabbit. Rabbits can live as long as cats. Children lose interest and all too often, a rabbit is later abandoned, abused, or given away.
  • The second is that the rabbit will be given at least the same quality of life found at the facility. The rabbits are fed a mix of fresh and pellet food, have interaction, and are given lots of space to hop and play.

Sue explained that nearly 1/3 of the people who apply to adopt one of the rabbits do not qualify. Rabbit Haven rehabilitates rabbits that were ignored, unwanted or abused, and part of the facility’s mission is to educate and ensure that the quiet herbivores are never neglected again.

Could a rabbit be for you? Rabbits need companionship, patience, room to hop and a quiet environment. They can live as long as a cat, so it is a long-term responsibility. They need to be trained and treated differently than most “common” pets — the process is not intuitive, but resources are easy to find. The smaller the rabbit breed, the more active; dwarf bunnies go into frenzies and need to play a lot, while giant bunnies are slower and eat much more. They don’t like to be picked up and cuddled, but once you win them over, they will come over to lay with you, be petted, interact, and play their rabbit games with you.

Rabbits can be trained to use a litter box, and all rabbit droppings are magical for the garden. They do not need to be composted; just spread, plant, and watch the plants go crazy. Plant a few carrots for the bunny and complete the natural cycle.

If a rabbit sounds like the perfect pet for you, or if you’re not sure, visit Rabbit Haven and talk with Sue or one of her volunteers. They will gladly answer questions and, if you find the perfect bunny, they will support you through the process of getting to know each other. They even have a visitor’s room where you can interact with the bunny of your choice on a one-to-one basis.

And if you visit this month, you might also see those adorable baby wild rabbits before they are returned to their forest.