She rides to the rescue of feral bunnies

When her neighbor moved out, Edith Emerson noticed that he had freed a large number of rabbits he’d been raising.

The property in rural Rochester is also home to coyotes and owls, and Emerson soon saw evidence of the rabbits’ struggle to survive.

But survive they have, and they’ve been breeding, well, like rabbits. Emerson has captured many of the bunnies, most of them younger than 12 weeks old. On Friday, she had 28 rabbits of all ages, including a nes tbox with 11 babies. She thinks there are as many as a dozen rabbits still outside.

“I think I have the males,” she said. “And I hope the big female that’s still out there didn’t get rebred.”

Feral domestic rabbits can become a huge problem. The area around the Microsoft campus in Redmond has been occupied by as many as 1,000 feral rabbits. And in northeast Portland, a capture, spay and neuter effort removed 751 rabbits from the 22-acre Glendoveer Golf Course and Park in the late 1990s.

Emerson’s goal is to get all the rabbits spayed or neutered and adopted into pet homes.

“I don’t want them going for meat,” she said, “or for snake food.”

But it costs $80 to spay a rabbit, and $70 to neuter one, according to Sarah Hinman, executive assistant at Concern For Animals, which is helping Emerson. Hinman said the nonprofit gets a much-reduced rate for the surgeries, which are significantly more expensive than the same procedures on a cat. Rabbits can be sensitive to anesthesia, and most rabbit-care resources recommend finding a veterinarian who is experienced with rabbits.

Emerson, who lives on her Social Security income, has the rabbits housed in two small outbuildings. Donations have provided an array of kennels, cages and supplies, and she has help from family members for the daily care. But when the nestlings get a little bigger, she’ll need more cages.

The rabbits are mostly black and white, with some that are brown and white. Some of the younger rabbits are nearing breeding age.

“I really need to get these older bunnies spayed or neutered and adopted, so I have room for the babies,” she said.

Catching the rabbits has been a challenge. Although they are domestic rabbits, they are now feral, and have to be trapped. Emerson said it has meant many nights of getting up, checking the trap, finding two bunnies, caging them, resetting the trap, only to repeat the whole routine an hour later. Emerson said that Twila Collins at The Cat’s Meow spay and neuter project in Lewis County helped with the traps.

“Some of the bunnies were too little to trigger my traps,” Emerson said.

She hasn’t been able to save them all. Rabbits are delicate and some have been too young or were injured. It’s been a crash course in rabbit-keeping for Emerson, who had no experience with rabbits before this.

“I want people to stop dumping animals,” Emerson said.