Embrace this hare-raising experience

Pat Barron wants you to think of rabbits as companion animals, just like cats and dogs.

As a volunteer at the Ohio House Rabbit Rescue in Columbus, Barron spends a lot of time introducing humans to rabbits in the hopes that she’ll pair a hare with a forever home.

“We think they make great family pets,” says Barron about the 35 spayed and neutered rabbits that are currently up for adoption at the rescue. “They’re quiet, litter trained and you don’t have to walk them.”

Each year in Ohio hundreds of unwanted pet rabbits are surrendered to animal shelters or released into the wild. The Ohio House Rabbit Rescue seeks a better alternative for these abandoned rabbits – one that includes unconditional love, a proper diet and regular veterinary care.

More than 100 rabbits are adopted annually through the program at a cost of $40 per bunny.

“We’re the only adoption center just for rabbits in Ohio,” Barron says. “Other places, like the Humane Society, have dogs, cats and some bunnies, but we have by far the most rabbits in the state.”

The rescue opened in 2013 in a 4,000 square-foot-space that’s overseen by a volunteer staff. It includes an intake area, treatment room and lots of play space.

Each bunny has its own 4-by-4-foot pen containing a cardboard shelter, litter pan, toys and food. The staff is happy to tell you about rabbit ownership and match you to the rabbit that best fits your personality and home environment.

“We want you to talk to the rabbits,” says Barron to me and my daughter, Rosie, during a Saturday visit. “Your voice is a signal to them that you’re not going to hurt them.”

Barron hops over a side of an enclosure. Like a magician, she lifts the cardboard box, revealing a black rabbit with bright eyes and twitching whiskers.

“Hi, Ebony! How are you, sweetheart?”

Visitors are taught how to socialize the rabbits so they’re more adoptable. Volunteer opportunities exist, too, including the position of “bunny socializer” – people who simply spend time with the rabbits, talking to them and petting them.

Barron teaches us the proper technique for petting bunnies. We start at their foreheads and stroke backward, focusing our attention on their ears.

“Don’t pet their noses or their behinds,” Barron says. “They don’t like that.

We also learn that they don’t like it when people make cartoony rabbit sounds, wave their hands in front of their faces, try to feed them hay or play with their toys.

“Good bunny,” Rosie says to a gentle, brown rabbit named Cupid.  “You’re such a good boy.”

Ohio House Rabbit Rescue is located at 5485 N. High St., Columbus. Public visiting hours are 5:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday; and noon-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, or by appointment by calling (614) 263-8557.

Visitors who wish to interact with the rabbits should be at least 8 years old.

Learn even more about bunny ownership at the Midwest BunFest in October.

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