Addison couple helps stray rabbits find homes
As bunny lovers, Joan and David Irwin know that holidays and other gift-giving occasions don't always end well for the cute, cuddly creatures.
Some domestic rabbits given as presents end up abandoned months later in forest preserves or animal shelters.
Helping stray rabbits has become a mission for the Irwins. The Addison couple, which has raised rabbits for more than 30 years, has been volunteering at DuPage County Animal Care and Control since 2006.
Laura Flamion, operations manager for the facility in Wheaton, said she's thankful for the assistance the Irwins -- and about 250 other volunteers -- provide.
Animal control is a self-supported facility that doesn't receive property tax dollars, she said, and "we've got limited resources."
So volunteers are critical for the shelter that cares for nearly 3,000 animals a year, including about 120 rabbits.
"We've got a good-sized group of volunteers that mostly works with the rabbits," Flamion said. "The Irwins are very passionate about our rabbit population."
Joan Irwin said she her husband got involved with animal control because they want to help nurse rabbits back to health and ultimately get them adopted to good homes.
"I enjoy seeing them become healthy, become socialized, and then go to a home where they're going to be a cherished and valued companion," she said.
The Irwins started raising rabbits in 1984, when they picked up a bunny at a pet store.
At the time, the Irwins had an old dog, but they didn't want to get a puppy because of the time and attention it would require.
What they didn't know is that owning a rabbit is a lot of work, too.
"We didn't know anything about rabbits at all," David Irwin said.
In fact, he said he was surprised his wife wanted one in the first place.
"I couldn't believe it," David Irwin said. "I just went along with it."
But once Rocky was home (the family dog was Bullwinkle), David Irwin said he thought owning a rabbit was "pretty cool."
For starters, he said, rabbits don't smell. They also groom themselves like cats.
Joan Irwin said she and her husband learned enough about rabbits to give Rocky a proper diet and get him socialized. They also got tips from other rabbit owners.
Rocky lived about nine years. The Irwins have since cared for dozens of rabbits at their home.
"We've had more than I want to count," Joan Irwin said. "I've had foster rabbits in and out of the house. At one time, we've had as many as seven in the house."
She got involved with the House Rabbit Society in the mid-1990s. That's what ultimately led to the Irwins volunteering at DuPage County Animal Care and Control.
While a vast majority of the animals at the shelter are cats and dogs, the facility also takes in goats, lizards and birds. On average, there's 10 rabbits at the facility at any given time.
"Rabbits are a problem in this area," Flamion said. "People purchase them for children. They don't realize they are a significant amount of work."
Unfortunately, some people release rabbits they no longer want into the wild, wrongly assuming the animals can fend for themselves.
"A domesticated rabbit will not survive on its own in the wild," Flamion said.
The Irwins say they want what's best for the rabbits fortunate enough to end up in their care. So they make sure that potential adopters understand the responsibility that comes with owning a rabbit.
"The best feeling is when somebody you've tried to educate says, 'You know what? I guess a rabbit is not for us,'" Joan Irwin said. "They have to make the decision on their own. They need to make that informed decision to get or not get a rabbit."