This is a brief account of how the charity started, including the story of the how we managed to relocate twice and still keep the charity running, and some hints on moving an animal rescue!
CottonTails started in 1993, and was originally located at Fishponds in Bristol. My rescue work did not in fact start with rabbits but actually with birds, and some of the individuals I helped along the way are shown below, aided by my eldest son who was about 7 years old at the time.
It was when a vet brought in an injured wild baby rabbit that it all really began. This is a photo of “Little Bun”, which is sadly the only photo of her that I have, it being the pre-digital era. She was a lively little bunny, as you can see! As she was brain damaged she was not able to be released but was happy in a very large pen where she could roam as she wished in safety.
Much of my time was taken up in the early years with hand-rearing various orphans, from an assortment of crows, jackdaws, blackbirds, robins and other birds, to squirrels, hedgehogs and wild baby rabbits that had been accidentally dug up by dogs or the occasional builder.
Not only did I work with rabbits and orphaned birds, but the kitchen was also home to a large American Bullfrog who used to wake up the household at 3am with his loud croaking, three axolotyls (the larval form of the Mexican Salamander that look like very big newts with feathery gills) who grew to almost 8 inches long and demanded a complicated filtration system, various species of stick insects including some that could fly around the room, and a large tank of ever-increasing Giant African Land Snails! The conservatory was carefully filled with an assortment of chinchillas and guinea pigs, and outside there were aviaries for the wild birds waiting for release, pigeons of various types, more chinchillas and of course the rabbit hutches.
During our time in Fishponds, I was lucky enough to have a friend (Sue Hunter) who was very good at coming up with ideas to engage with the public about rabbit welfare issues, and one of the ideas was “The Carrot Awards”. A competition was organised for people to nominate their rabbit for various categories, and with the local papers all supporting the idea we had a lot of entries! Trude Mostue from the BBC Vet programme kindly gave up her time to help us give out the awards, and the ceremony was held at Bristol Zoo. What a day that was! Trude is on the left of the photo, Sue in the middle and myself on the right.
In 1998 we moved to Keynsham. I decided that I needed to concentrate more on the rabbit rescue side of my work as this was what was needed most, so spent a few busy weeks before the move finding good homes for all the animals (with the exception of the family dog) and dismantling the aviaries. This included over 30 chinchillas, 40 pigeons, and various other birds, not to mention the current rabbit and guinea pig inhabitants!The move was as stressful and difficult as most relocations, made slightly easier in some respects by deciding to only take some of the hutches with us and start off again with new ones once we had settled in. We attracted a fair amount of press interest at the time as you can see.
Although in Fishponds I was lucky enough to have over 10 volunteers a week helping with the cleaning out (usually at least two people every day apart from Sundays), the majority of them were not able to follow us to Keynsham so we had to start all over again recruiting volunteers. However, after a while we had some lovely people come forward to help on a Saturday morning and mid-week, which helped a great deal, especially as I had by then two additions to the family!
Keynsham was smaller than the premises that we had enjoyed at Fishponds, but the set up was far better, with large 6′ hutches and runs attached to the front. By this point we had started to neuter all the rabbits before adoption, and this meant that we could match up all of them before they went to their new homes. This was largely due to changes in anaesthetics making the operation much less risky, especially for females. It was around this time that research in rabbits really started to take off in the UK, with more and more people realizing that the social life of a rabbit was far more complex and demanding than had at first been realized This ongoing process has resulted in the life of the average pet rabbit being much improved, although a lot of work still remains to be done.
In 2003 we were on the move again, this time going a bit further a-field to Westbury in Wiltshire. Although we had a lot of work to do to prepare the ground for the rabbit accommodation, it proved to be a good move with the best set up yet, including a large guinea pig shed and proper storage for hay and other bedding.
AND NOW …
Our new specially made metal runs …
The guinea pig shed as it looks now:
Specially built accommodation for giant rabbits or large litters (before the run area was attached):
Additional giant rabbit accommodation, including isolation unit:
You can view a short film of our latest giant’s accommodation which is below. The new unit measures 7′ by 7′ and this opens up to an outside run area. The accommodation inside the unit comprises 2 large 7′ by 2.5′ by 3′ hutches, placed one on top of the other. The top hutch will also serve as an isolation unit should the need arise (in which case the occupants of the lower level and run would need to be moved). Photos of the unit are also below.
TIPS TO BEAR IN MIND WHEN MOVING …
There is no doubt in my mind that relocating an animal rescue is not for the faint hearted. There is a lot to consider, far more than you might expect, even to the extent of making sure that you will not run into any planning or neighbour problems at the new site. Firstly, there are the obvious concerns about moving animals to minimize stress. Secondly there is the moving of the accommodation or whether to decide to start again with new equipment, in which case budgeting for this major expense needs to be a top priority. Thirdly, helpers may not follow you so you could be on your own for a while, just at the time when you need help the most. Fourthly, you have to start all over again to build up a reputation, which can take at least a couple of years. In addition, all the paperwork and letter headings have to change, as well as telephone numbers. I arranged for a message to be put on the old telephone number to inform people of our relocation and how they could contact us, and kept this going for about a year, as well as getting local newspapers to carry the story so that as many people as possible would know how to contact us. This was before we had a web site of course! All this on top of the usual worries about house sales, change of schools and the thousand and one things you have to sort out at the time.
It is certainly not something I would advise anyone to do unless there is no choice. If it is unavoidable and using the benefit of hindsight, I would say that it is vital to stop the rescue work at least 2 or 3 months before the actual move to ensure that all the animals are re-homed, and not to start up again until 2 or 3 months after you have moved in and have got everything organised and in place. There is no advantage in rushing to get things up and running again, as I found out to my cost. We ended up having to resurface the whole of the patio area, and because I was in such a hurry to start taking in rabbits again we went to a lot of trouble putting a temporary layer of heavy paving slabs down, only to have to move the whole lot (as well as all the hutches) again when the builders arrived! If only I could have waited … Yes, we are all very knowledgeable after the event! We were very lucky to have some wonderful people who helped us with the move and also with the horrible job of moving the slabs (twice) and all the rest of the work that it entailed. Without them, CottonTails would have faltered badly, perhaps permanently. Be sure if you are moving that you have lots and lots of backup!