Rabbit rescuers: Rescue group has helped more than 150 bunnies this year

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  • Jordana Starr, left, and Jessica Riel, co-founders of Western Mass Rabbit Rescue, talk about the nonprofit’s mission while they watch a bonded pair, Snowball and Macintosh, play in a pen at Starr’s Northampton home on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jordana Starr, left, and Jessica Riel, co-founders of Western Mass Rabbit Rescue, describe how to differentiate wild and domestic rabbits during an interview at Starr’s Northampton home on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. In the foreground, a bonded pair, Macintosh and Snowball, play together. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jessica Riel, a co-founder of Western Mass Rabbit Rescue, gives Snowball a hug after lifting him out of a pen at the Northampton home of co-founder Jordana Starr on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jessica Riel, a co-founder of Western Mass Rabbit Rescue, lifts Gaea, a 13-pound female, from a play pen at the Northampton home of co-founder Jordana Starr on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jordana Starr of Northampton, a co-founder of Western Mass Rabbit Rescue, steps on a scale to weigh Gaea, a 13-pound female, on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jordana Starr of Northampton, a co-founder of Western Mass Rabbit Rescue, steps on a scale to weigh Gaea, a 13-pound female, on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Travel carriers get frequent use at Western Mass Rabbit Rescue. Photographed in Northampton on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A rabbit recovers in a pen at Western Mass Rabbit Rescue in Northampton on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, after recent surgery. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jordana Starr of Northampton, a co-founder of Western Mass Rabbit Rescue, stands outside a pen with Gaea, a 13-pound female, on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 11/17/2021 8:31:10 PM

NORTHAMPTON — During the heart of the pandemic, some people took up baking or binge-watched “Tiger King.” Jordana Starr and Jessica Riel, on the other hand, decided to start a nonprofit dedicated to rescuing domesticated rabbits.

Western Mass Rabbit Rescue was founded last summer in Northampton after Starr and Riel, both rabbit rescuers and rabbit welfare advocates, were called to East Longmeadow to gather a group of domesticated rabbits that were found wandering in a backyard.

“They were obviously domestic rabbits somebody had released,” Riel said.

She said the incident and others like it involving domesticated rabbits made them realize that an organization didn’t exist locally to help these animals. The nonprofit officially incorporated earlier this year, with Starr as its president and Riel as its vice president.

Western Mass Rabbit Rescue has had more than 150 rabbits enter its care since it began. The rescue facilitates the spaying and neutering of rescued rabbits, provides them with medical care, facilitates adoptions, and runs a foster network.

“The more fosters we have, the more rabbits we can take in,” Starr said.

Rabbits are also kept in the homes of members of the organization and in a facility in Northampton.

The rescue’s foster network only includes indoor homes, and only allows rabbits that have been spayed or neutered to be adopted. A foster family can adopt a rabbit after it’s spayed or neutered.

Starr and Riel noted the benefits of spaying and neutering also extend to the health of rabbits, as rabbits that don’t have this procedure have a greater risk of cancer.

Riel said that it’s a misconception that rabbits are easy to take care of, but they require social attention and care. Rabbits that are simply fed and left alone tend to get depressed and have shorter lives, she said.

“If you bring a rabbit into your home and treat them like a member of the furry family and let them run around and play and cuddle with you and get to know you they have such amazing personalities,” Riel said.

Ways that people keep rabbits indoors include having a dedicated rabbit room, having a pen for the rabbits, or having the rabbits hop free around the house.

Both Starr and Riel are longtime rabbit lovers, with connections to the fuzzy, friendly animals.

“My history with rabbits goes back to being a baby,” Starr said. “My first big stuffed animal was a rabbit, I had a baby blanket, my parents called me Jordana Bunny. I had a stuffed bunny collection when I was a little kid.”

However, she didn’t become a rabbit owner until she and her boyfriend, now husband, were living in Taiwan and bought a rabbit from the pet shop they were living above.

Riel’s first stuffed animal also was a bunny and she had rabbits growing up. Riel noted how she and her now-husband got a rabbit called Chloe in one of their first apartments, and that Chloe died suddenly. She said her love for Chloe and her sadness at her passing got her interested in fostering.

“It’s been a lifelong dream to have house rabbits and now I have far more of them than I thought,” she said.

Rabbits also brought Starr and Riel together as well.

“Rabbits are the reason why we’re friends,” Starr said.

Although it’s named the Western Mass Rabbit Rescue, the rescue takes in animals from all around the commonwealth. It’s also looking to set up a shelter space as well.

Rabbits come to the attention of the rescue through animal control officers, reports from the public, and people giving up their rabbits when they realize that taking care of them is too much work. Some of the rabbits the rescue takes in are domesticated rabbits that have been abandoned in the wild. Starr and Riel noted, however, that domesticated rabbits are very different from wild rabbits in Massachusetts, as domesticated rabbits come from Europe and are biologically distinct.

Good ways to identify a domestic rabbit are by coloring, ear size and shape, friendliness and size.

Those interested in fostering a rabbit, tipping off the rescue, or donating to the rescue can visit www.westernmassrabbitrescue.org, or they can email westernmassrabbitrescue@gmail.com.

The rescue currently is planning a “wedding” fundraiser for a bonded pair of rabbits, Snowball and Macintosh, which is set to be live-streamed.

“We’re going to have a registry for them,” Riel said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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