Gen Y Speaks: What I learned volunteering at a rabbit rescue group
Last year, after my family adopted a rabbit from Bunny Wonderland, I decided to volunteer at this rabbit rescue and welfare group. Because of my severe physical disability due to spinal muscular atrophy, I manage the group’s communications with the public instead of helping out in rabbit rescue. Along the way, I have learned a lot about what goes on behind the scenes in running an animal rescue, including the painful bits that long-serving volunteers inevitably endure.
Last year, after my family adopted a rabbit from Bunny Wonderland, I decided to volunteer at this rabbit rescue and welfare group to spend my free time more meaningfully to build up my extracurricular experiences.
But because of my severe physical disability due to spinal muscular atrophy – which causes my muscles to disintegrate over time – I am fully reliant on a wheelchair to move around and cannot help rescue rabbits.
Luckily, as a communications student, I have other skills to offer that do not involve too much physical exertion.
Since earlier this year, I have been helping to manage Bunny Wonderland’s communication with the public.
Along the way, I have learned a lot about what goes on behind the scenes in running an animal rescue, including the painful bits that long-serving volunteers inevitably endure.
Some have faced off with aggressive primates and venomous snakes during dangerous outdoor rescue missions in parks and nature reserves. Others have had to deal with irascible owners who refuse to let go of rabbits that they have clearly lost interest in long ago.
Quite often, the rabbits are kept in small cages outside their owners’ flats because they claim the animals are smelly and do not need much living space.
These “corridor rabbits” often get severely neglected because they are out of sight and out of mind. Many die from lack of food, while some suffer stress from being exposed to the elements and other animals like dogs and cats.
In April this year, a fellow volunteer found one such rabbit near his own home in Bukit Batok. He spoke to the owner who thankfully allowed him to remove the bunny. It was named Buffy and is now happily adopted.
I issued a press release which helped Buffy’s case get coverage in some alternative media sites in Singapore. This shone the spotlight on the plight of corridor rabbits and let a wider segment of the public know about the work that we do.
But the publicity quickly proved to be a double-edged sword. More organisations and journalists from the mainstream media came knocking, as did hordes of owners asking to give up their unwanted rabbits.
Our “shelter” is actually our founder’s home and has a capacity of only 40 rabbits. Much as we would love to take in every single rabbit, this is logistically impossible.
So we sent standard replies to those wanting us to take in their rabbits, telling them that we were full and giving them the option to either join a waitlist or approach other animal welfare groups for more immediate assistance.
To our chagrin, some of them took to social media to accuse us of being “unhelpful” because we were “always full”.
Nonetheless, the comments prompted us to reword our replies to be more personal.
We are also actively working to increase our total capacity by seeking more experienced rabbit owners to provide foster homes for some of our rescued rabbits.
Buffy (left) is now happily adopted.
IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH
Another difficult part of animal rescue is seeing the animals suffer, their life fading away before your eyes, and knowing that it could have been prevented if only their owners had been a little more compassionate.
One such case that happened recently involved a grey male Netherland Dwarf we named Tortilla.
Rescued from a Tampines void deck, Tortilla was found with severe ear infection and overgrown teeth. It had great difficulty with eating as half of its tongue had rotted away.
Further investigation by the vet revealed that it was also suffering from an accumulation of fluid around its heart. The heart’s main pumping chamber was also enlarged and weakened.
These conditions did not develop overnight. They were a result of poor hygiene and diet, pointing to negligent care by Tortilla’s former owner, before it was callously abandoned like broken goods.
Tortilla fought for survival for two weeks, but the vet advised us to prepare for the worst. Our founder decided that it should leave the clinic so that it could experience the warmth of a home for the first time in its life.
A volunteer took it back to her house and stayed up to watch the bunny through the night, periodically feeding Tortilla glucose through a syringe, until it died the next day.
In doing so, Tortilla joined countless other rabbits we could not save. It is nothing new to us, but each time it happens, it is just as disappointing and heart-breaking as the last.
Volunteering with Bunny Wonderland has taught me that as idealistic as we may want to be as animal lovers, we must be pragmatic too. There will be animals that we fail to save and ones that we have to turn away. But that is life.
This short stint has also served as a lesson in accountability as my name appears on every piece of writing I produce for Bunny Wonderland and any mistake would have consequences for the organisation and myself.
It has been half a year since I took the plunge into volunteering and it has been fruitful and rewarding.
So if you are thinking about getting involved with your favourite cause – be it animal welfare, human rights or environmentalism – but have not yet made up your mind, go for it.
It can be deeply rewarding, like when our Buffy got adopted in my case.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jonathan Tiong is a second-year student at the National University of Singapore where he is majoring in Communications and New Media.