SINGAPORE: Jackie Fang has had to undergo four surgical operations in the past two years and now requires the aid of a walking stick to get around, but she remains dedicated to rabbit welfare - even though it has come at the expense of her own.
"It was in an open space, and when the rabbit was running about I tried to catch it," recalled Ms Fang of a routine rescue in 2016. "I thought I was still young and did a goalkeeper dive. It slowed down the run of the rabbit and my rescue partner managed to catch it. We had a rescue plan, but the dive wasn't part of it."
During the rescue, she injured her spine, her neck and her right knee, seriously aggravating an old injury. Ms Fang continues to feel the effects today and has lost some of her mobility.
But this isn't going to stop her or Bunny Wonderland Singapore, her private rabbit rescue group, from carrying out their mission. Established five years ago, 15 volunteers aim to save and find new homes for pet rabbits which have been abandoned or surrendered.
“Bunny Wonderland’s primary objective is to rescue the neglected and the sick animals - we will nurse them back to health and we will put them up for adoption," said Ms Lynne Tan, who founded the group with Ms Fang.
Since its inception in 2013, Ms Tan estimates that Bunny Wonderland has rescued between 350 to 400 rabbits and found new homes for many of them.
However, Bunny Wonderland isn't the only volunteer rabbit rescue group in Singapore. The House Rabbits Society of Singapore (HRSS) is a non-profit group dedicated to rabbit welfare and education about the animals.
The group rescues over a hundred rabbits a year, said vice-president Jacelyn Heng.
"Just because you don't see them, it doesn't mean that they are not there," said Ms Heng. "If rabbits are abandoned, they will hide first because they are prey animals. They only come out twice - in the early morning when they search for food and in the late evening. These are the two timings we go out to rescue them."
Rabbits are usually left abandoned in parks, said both rescue groups. A number also have been left in HDB estates, either in cages or wandering among void decks and car parks.
“When people abandon rabbits intentionally, they don’t want them to be found. So they choose very secluded parts of Singapore like parks," said Ms Tan.
“We had a couple of rabbits found in rubbish bins, people knew about it when they heard rustling sounds (from) inside the rubbish bin. One of them was even wrapped up in a plastic bag and you could see a head popping out.”
HOPPING AWAY FROM RESPONSIBILITIES
Some people purchase rabbits because they think that the animals are not only cuddly but easy to care for, said Ms Tan.
“It's quite common for people to walk by pet shops and see very cute rabbits. Of course, when you see cute things, you just want to have them," she added. "There’s a misconception that rabbits are small and cute and easy to care for, which is typically what they are marketed as – pocket pets or starting pets for children. It doesn’t take long for people to realise that it is all false, because rabbits will grow."
Rabbits can also breed very quickly, leading to problems when owners find themselves with an unwanted litter of babies and no means to care for them.
“Two rabbits can easily give birth at the age of five months and every litter could be four to eight rabbits and they could have babies every twenty-eight days," Ms Tan added. "That’s their gestation period ... the poor little rabbit could give birth over and over again. So if you don’t control the population (of your pets), it just grows exponentially."
VULNERABLE TO ATTACK
When unwanted rabbits are left to fend for themselves in the wild, these domestic pets have no chance of survival, said Ms Heng, who has been part of HRSS for fifteen years.
"Rabbits may just be bitten by cats, dogs or predators," she stressed. "Abandoning them is like sending them to a slow and painful death."
This has been witnessed first-hand by some of the Bunny Wonderland personnel such as Ms Fang.
“There was a rescue in Sembawang. We knew about the case and when we rushed down, the two rabbits were already dead. I suspect that they met predators,” she recalled. "Sometimes, it is sad to say - and this is not only in Singapore - that quite a lot of adults don’t recognise that animals are also living things. They treat them as toys."
The condition that the abandoned rabbits are found in also varies. Some are in reasonably good shape, due to owners taking care of them for an extended period of time before giving them up.
But others which come from breeding farms or from overbreeding cases may not be so lucky.
Ms Fang, who works in the oil and gas industry, estimates that she forks out close to $100,000 annually from her own pocket on medical bills for the rescued rabbits. Bunny Wonderland also raises funds on its Facebook page.
"Owners typically may not know the health of their rabbit – they would tell us that they are fine but when we bring the rabbits to see a doctor, we realise their livers are infected, their kidneys are malfunctioning, they are dehydrated and they are not well. We end up uncovering all these for the owners instead," added co-founder Ms Tan.
At Bunny Wonderland, the rescued rabbits are nursed back to health at Ms Fang's home - which is affectionately known as the same name by members of the group. The landed property hosts close to 30 rabbits, most of which are housed in individual play pens where they have space to exercise.
Most of the rabbits are housed in an airy open area on the ground floor, while others reside in three different spaces upstairs. There is a quarantine room for rabbits which have just been rescued, another where rabbits are kept which require special care due to old age or other issues, and Ms Fang's bedroom - the 'Intensive Care Unit' for rabbits with more serious disabilities such as head tilt.
“Jackie’s home – what she calls Bunny Wonderland - is the primary place where we keep all our rescued rabbits," said Ms Tan.
"Typically, once a rabbit is rescued we have no clue what’s going on within them. So we quarantine them, and typically this is done at a vet’s clinic where they can receive the treatments. Then a few days later, we bring them to foster homes and Jackie place is the primary foster home. In times where we need more capacity, we will look out to our volunteers and they are typically the (other) foster homes for our rabbits.”
At both Bunny Wonderland and HRSS, the goal is to find new homes for the abandoned rabbits. While both rescue groups say that the number of abandoned animals continues to hold steady, they take comfort in the fact that attitudes towards rabbits seem to be changing.
"The numbers of abandoned rabbits are not dropping but I do see more rabbit 'parents' improving the welfare of the rabbits as the years go by," said Ms Heng. "They treat their rabbits as more precious (pets) now."
"We see more people talking about sterilisation of the rabbits, more stepping up to support them choosing adoption over buying a pet," added Ms Tan. "That itself proves that what we are trying to advocate is heard. We do this because it’s what we are passionate about – it is just part of our life."
Ask Ms Fang if she could go back to that rabbit rescue where she was injured to do anything differently, and her answer is an emphatic one.
“To me there are no regrets, because I love them."