Pat’s Wildways: A Way with Bunnies

By Pat Foster-Turley

Any regular reader of my columns knows I am hounded by rabbits in my backyard. These wild critters live in my backyard and appear often, eating our vegetation, and there is no stopping them. Over time I have learned that anything marketed as “rabbit deterrents” is useless, and home remedies don’t deter them either. Anything I plant on the ground gets eaten and no matter what repellents, fences, or trap and release methods I use, they are still there every day chewing away. But you know, I like rabbits and they deserve a break, at least in our yard. So now all my horticultural projects are above ground including elevated beds for my vegetables and tall pots for my butterfly-attracting plants. These rabbits don’t seem to like sage (salvia) so now my butterfly garden has a number of these flowers still intact on the ground. We have made peace with the bunnies.

Samantha Burns is the founder of Bebette’s Bunny Rescue.

Now I’ve met someone who is totally enamored with rabbits and is putting her passion to good use. Like many pet rabbit owners, Samantha Burns started with a rabbit purchased impulsively from a pet store. The rabbit was sold to her as a neutered male and when she discovered they were social and needed company she bought two other “neutered males” from the same store. These three turned into 15 rabbits in short order, and she learned a lot about bunny keeping through many trials and tribulations, none of which the pet store prepared her for. When one she hand-raised, Bebette, sadly died during surgery she founded her non-profit organization, Bebette’s Bunny Rescue last year in her honor.

Rabbits thrive with lots of toys, enrichment items, and time with their owners outside their cages.

Samantha has undertaken a massive project to help more rabbits with a four-pronged approach: rescue, rehabilitation, adoption, and education. It turns out that many people impulsively buy a baby bunny from a pet store without any idea of how to care for it, or of the maybe 10-year commitment needed to keep it as a pet. Rabbits are social, intelligent, playful and lots of fun if you give them the proper treatment, food and facilities. But many impulse buyers of domestic bunnies in pet stores do not know how to care for them, and the rabbits end up dying or being released into the wild, where they will not survive. Samantha told me that the Egans Creek Greenway is often a dumping site for abandoned pets, a number of which have been readopted by people trained and capable of keeping them properly. She has even teamed up with the Nassau Humane Society to convince the Nassau County Commission to prohibit the sale of rabbits in pet stores. Anyone legitimate who wants a pet rabbit can easily find one from a rabbit breeder, who will explain the care and treatment before allowing the animal to leave their hands. Samantha has also prepared a training tutorial for people wanting pet rabbits, and has written a children’s book, “A Day with Bebette the Bunny” to teach others.

Wild cottontail rabbits are rehabilitated at Bebette’s Bunny Rescue. (Photo/Samantha Burns)

Besides domestic rabbits, Samantha also works to rehabilitate any wild rabbits that are orphaned or otherwise in need of help and works under the license of the Ark Wildlife Care and Sanctuary located nearby. Florida has two species of wild rabbits–cottontails and marsh rabbits–that are both brown in color and very skittish in captivity. Only a few dedicated people like Samantha can successfully keep them alive, thriving, and able to be released again to the wild.

I was impressed by Samantha’s facility out in Hilliard. This past Saturday she held an open house to celebrate the expansion of her rabbit facility. Young volunteers were in abundance, all happy to show off the rabbits and talk about their own rabbits at home. Her facility was full of bonded pair bunnies and singletons waiting to be adopted and there is a long waiting list of other current rabbit owners hoping she will find homes for theirs too. Potential adopters must fill in paperwork, take the training course, and understand the long-term commitment necessary to include rabbits in their household. She also sells all the equipment, food and play toys that pet rabbits need to thrive. Bebette’s Bunny Rescue is one of only 11 such organizations in Florida, not nearly enough resources to help all those rabbits in need.

Rielle Grace Gay, 9, is a volunteer at Bebette’s.

If you want to help, check out their website. Donations, volunteer work, sharing knowledge—all are needed to help this cause. And, if you want to visit the facility to learn more, make an appointment through the website and Samantha will be there to greet you. I am so happy I found her! And now, knowing more about rabbits, I am even happier to see my own wild ones hopping in my yard. So what if my plants are destroyed? Long live the bunnies!

Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]

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Noble Member
9 months ago

Once again, Ms. Pat, you’ve introduced us to another great person in our community! Thank you Samantha for helping these little creatures! People are always enamored with baby bunnies but much like puppies and kittens, lose interest once they get “big”. It’s unfortunate because just because an animal loses the cute factor doesn’t mean it is any less adorable or important! All life has value and if you choose to get a pet, you MUST commit to it fully! I greatly admire Ms. Samantha’s approach to ensuring a future bunny parent’s success. I pray she continues to have many adoptions and continued prosperity.

Richard Timm
Trusted Member
Richard Timm(@rtimm-ontheislandgmail-com)
9 months ago

Recently i was thinking of writing you about rabbits. Have you ever heard on “sneeze”? It seems to be an alert they callout occasionally when I am running on the Greenway. What can you tell me about this? [email protected]