On a dead end street in the backyard of an otherwise unassuming trailer home located behind J.B Martin Middle School in Paradis is a row of rabbit hutches.
This is where Tinkerbell, Leila, Digsy, Molly, Winchester, Tokyo, Squirrel, Buck Norris, Salts, Linda, Leo and about a dozen other bunnies call home.
The rabbits are all kept under the watch of Donna Rome who has slowly been building her collection over the past two years.
Rome said she spontaneously received her first rabbit after a friend of her 14-year-old daughter stayed over one night.
"The girlís momma came over to pick her up and she was on her way to get her rabbits to get their nails trimmed at the pet store," Rome said. "She had the babies with her and I said Ďoh, babies let me see!í and it was over. That was it. I melted and I just became the crazy rabbit lady."
Since then Rome has had dozens of rabbits come through her backyard and its mesh fronted hutches.
Rome now provides a safe haven for unwanted rabbits that do not have anywhere else to go. Her mission is to get any rabbit she picks up healthy and then adopt them out to children and others interested in having the soft and furry animals as pets.
"My goal is to adopt out as many of my rescues as possible," Rome said.
In addition, she not only wants to make the rabbits in her care happy, but to engage with people who would not ordinarily see them as pets and tell them about the virtues of taking a bunny into their home.
"I just want people to know that rabbits can really be cool pets and that they can be cool indoor pets if you are willing to go through a little bit of an expense to have them altered," Rome said. "But when you get them altered they are as neat as cats and not nearly as smelly and they canít jump up on the table or the stove. Although they will chew your paperback books or your electrical cords if you do not give them enough things to chew on."
A regular adoption for a rabbit from Rome costs $10 for the bunny alone, but she puts together packages including cage, the water bottle, the food bottle and a litter box for $40 for those who do not have the equipment to house and care for the animals. There is an extra charge for neutering and spaying, which must be done by a veterinarian.
Rome also allows those who adopt from her to return the pets if they do not work out.
"I give them a three week guarantee if they are not in love with the rabbit. Then they get their money back minus $10 or they get a trade for another rabbit to try and see if that one works out in their family," she said. "I want the rabbits to be happy. Itís not about the money, itís all about the bunny."
Rome said she receives calls in response to an ad she has placed on Craigslist and is known throughout the community for her rabbits.
She ran through a list of names she has recently adopted, or is getting to adopt out, including one that was prompted by a blind manís family who reached out to her with the thought that a rabbit with its plush fur will make a good pet for him
"Mr. Houdini, Snuffy and Milo and then there were four babies from the last batch and then the blind man is going to get Penelope," Rome said.
Rome expects that over the Good Friday break and Easter quite a few more of the rabbits will go as well.
"I am going to be significantly less overwhelmed with these bunnies after Easter. Easter is my goal," she said.
She said one of the rabbits she rescued came from a neighborhood child and it started a movement of children who come to visit and help out in the care of the animals.
"The rabbit was running around in the yard with the cats and the dogs and the squirrels and I said Ďyou know I have rabbits. You think I could take care of her?í" Rome said. "So they would come and visit her and then her classmates would come and their classmates would come."
Now she has enlisted neighborhood kids who have an interest in caring for animals to help out with her rabbits.
"Iíve got a Bunny Brigade. Iíve got two little helpers that always come and I made them take a rabbit book and read about it and they came back each with a paper on information about what they learned about rabbits," she said.
In addition to having younger children help out, she also has a high school student who sometimes assists her and has aspirations of becoming a veterinarian.
"She asked if she could do her high school community service hours here because she wants to be a veterinarian and her job shadow was at the Destrehan vet clinic. She adopted a rabbit with the backwards elbow joints," Rome said. "So she is taking care of a handicapped rabbit right now and whenever she has to get community service points for her high school she comes here and helps."
Rome said she has come a long way since she her initial reaction two years ago to a cute baby animal. She has put together an adoption agency and has now become something of a rabbit educator.
Long a member of Covenant Churchís childrenís ministry, Rome said it was a comfortable progression from keeping the rabbits to showing children how to keep them. Now she lets kids learn from her and take the bunnies home for a couple of days at a time to learn how to be responsible before she allows them to adopt the rabbits outright.
"I do want to teach kids more about the responsibility about having pets, that they can really hurt their pet if they donít know how to pick them up right and things like that," Rome said. "If they think they are ready for a pet they should come out and help me to find out what itís really like to clean up after one and maybe keep one over the weekend with their parentís permission to see what it is really like to have one at home. Iíve always thought about starting a rent a rabbit. ĎAre you ready to commit? Try rent-a-rabbit!í"
Rome said she is open to adopting her rabbits out to any family who may be a good fit for them as well as helping out those who have rabbits of their own and are in need of tips of how to take care of them properly.
She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|ďSalts,Ē a dwarf rabbit rescued by Rome, eats out of his dish.|