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Lori Sundberg, PhD – Germanic Languages Specialist and Rabbit Rescuer

By Admin | March 13, 2008

Lori Sundberg, PhD is a specialist in Germanic languages and literature. She spends some of her free time as a foster mother for rescued rabbits. We recently had a chance to get her thoughts on these animals in need.


Where are you from?

I am originally from Oklahoma. I moved to the East Coast to attend graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Where did you go to college and what was your academic major?

For my doctorate, I attended the University of Pennsylvania in the field of Germanic Languages and Literatures. I also completed one-fourth of my doctoral coursework at Yale University through the doctoral exchange program.

While working on my MA, I attended the Universitaet Heidelberg in Germany. I also spent two semesters at Stockholm’s Universitet in Sweden.

What are you currently doing professionally?

I am currently on the academic job market for assistant professorships in German and Comparative Literature. The last position I held was a visiting assistant professorship at Middlebury College in Vermont.

How did you get the idea to become involved in rabbit rescue?

I was looking for a bunny friend for our pet rabbit Doodles about two years ago. When I started going to area shelters, I became saddened and surprised at the large amount of animals going in and not coming out.

It was at that time I made up my mind that I would do whatever I could to start getting animals out. There was a real need in the community for rabbits to be rescued so I joined Friends of Rabbits.

You might say I dove in headfirst and just started pulling bunnies out of shelters before they were euthanized.

Do you have an official role with Friends of Rabbits?

Yes, I am the fostering director for Friends of Rabbits, a Maryland, DC, and Virginia based 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Our president is Susan Wong who has been involved with animal rescue for years.

Where do you rescue your rabbits from?

Our rabbits come from area shelters before they are put down. We don’t generally take from the public because of the overwhelming number of bunnies in need at the shelters.

Sometimes we are called by animal control officers to pick up bunnies from cruelty situations. You might say we also help out when bunny expertise is needed.

Many individuals are not knowledgeable about the special needs of rabbits, and we are here to educate the public about their specifics.

What do you tell people who are concerned about the risk of getting tularemia from their rabbits?

Keep your rabbits indoors. Since the disease is spread from arthropods like fleas and ticks, the problem is diminished by keeping the rabbit as a house companion.

With this in mind, it is necessary for a rabbit to receive the same veterinary assistance that would be given to a cat or dog.

Rabbits are now the third most common companion animal in the US. They deserve the same care.

How long do rabbits typically live?

Rabbits can have a lifespan up to 12 years and sometimes even longer.

Generally, when a bunny reaches 8-12 years they are senior citizens in the rabbit world. Keeping your rabbit indoors can easily increase their lifespan.

With indoor housing they are not as susceptible to fly-strike, heat stroke, severe cold, or predators. Domestic bunnies should not be caged outdoors or left in temperatures under 50F or over 85F.

Many people don’t know that just by seeing a predator while caged outside a rabbit can have a heart attack and die. There is also the possibility of a predator digging underneath an outside enclosure.

What screening do you have to go through to adopt a rabbit?

A potential adopter is required to fill out an adoption application and a final contract before the adoption is completed.

We want to be sure of what the home environment is like, so we also require a vet reference and a home visit for first time bunny owners. Our organization is here to help the adopters in ways that shelters and pet stores won’t.

We provide a support network in case there is a question or illness. I can’t think of another group that is as supportive as this one.

If one of the bunnies isn’t feeling well or if I have a question, another group member is over at my home helping with the situation. We offer this kind of support not only to our foster network but also to our adopters.

I would also like to say that we have a very diverse group in this organization, and our different backgrounds help in various situations.

Can you give us an idea of who is in your group?

For example, we have biologists, engineers, IT people, vet techs, a geologist, a law enforcement specialist, accountants, and even a toxicologist with a Ph.D. from MIT.

Believe me, if any of my foster bunnies were to ever eat something they shouldn’t have, the toxicologist would be the first person I’d call. It is this great network of people and expertise that adopters have told me they appreciate having access to.

What type of rabbits do you have available for adoption?

All kinds really. We don’t discriminate about which ones we take in from the shelters. If it’s a rabbit in need and we have room, then we take it in.

Many rescue groups won’t take bunnies that become too large or ones that are harder to get adopted out like the New Zealand rabbits with white fur and pink eyes.

We take all breeds and types, and we even take in those that have been deemed “unadoptables” by shelters, meaning that they have some health problem or anomaly making it difficult for them to find permanent homes.

Basically, our only qualification is that it’s a bunny.


Why do rabbits make good pets?

Rabbits can be litterbox trained just like a cat or a dog which makes them great house companions.

Depending on the temperament of the animal, some of them will enjoy sitting quietly together with you as you read, take a nap, or watch a movie. Others are more active and bounce around in the most playful manner.

How old does a rabbit have to be before you can put it up for adoption?

A rabbit should stay with its mother until it is a least two months old. Since our group advocates spaying and neutering rabbits prior to adoption, we like to wait until the rabbit is old enough to have that surgery done.

It is not uncommon, however, for a shelter to call us with extremely young bunnies that have been dropped off without their mother.

I have a 5 week-old right now at my house because the original owners brought two litters to a local shelter, kept the parents, and then refused to let the shelter spay and neuter the two adult bunnies for free.

It is people like this who create an influx of rabbits at shelters causing them to be unnecessarily put down. In the end, it is the animals that suffer for the overpopulation problem we humans have created.

Do you allow people to adopt more than one rabbit at a time?

Yes, we do. We often adopt out pairs and trios. Rabbits are very social creatures and they enjoy the company of others bunnies.

However, you need to make sure that the rabbits are bonded before you put them together. Otherwise, you will end up with some serious fighting leaving bunnies with some bad injuries.

How do you get the rabbits to get along socially with people and each other?

Most domestic rabbits just generally do this on their own. If the bunny has come from a cruelty situation, has been severely neglected, or abused, then it takes some time to build that trust back.

In these situations, it is often another rabbit that will help them come around. I have a beautiful rex rabbit at my home that has been terrified of people since I picked her up from a county shelter last spring.

While at my house, she has been passed over for adoption many times. The minute someone would even look at her she would run away and hide. I recently bonded her with an older male and she now comes out of hiding to be with him.

Will you place rabbits in homes with cats and dogs?

That depends on the temperament of the cat or dog. Some get along wonderfully, while others could be dangerous.

Rabbits are naturally prey animals so it is important to make sure that the dog or cat is not a threat to the bunny.

Can you give us one generally little known “fun fact” about rabbits?

Rabbits have different personalities just like people do. Some are reserved while others are outgoing. They can get moody and happy just like people do.

How many rabbits have you rescued and placed into a good home to date?

Within the past six months I’ve personally placed around twenty. I’ve helped rescue around a hundred within the past six months.

If I am unable to accommodate a rescued rabbit, then one of our many foster volunteers steps in to keep the bunny until we have found a forever home.

We are a big network of volunteers and we are here to help the bunnies out as much a possible.

Is Easter your biggest adoption season?

In regard to Easter, we try to be very cautious around this time. Often people think that getting a bunny as an Easter gift for a child, spouse, or friend is a good idea without realizing that a rabbit is a long-time commitment.

I know of some rescues and shelters that actually suspend adoptions at this time for that reason. If an adopter is interested in a rabbit at Easter, I make sure they know the full responsibility of what they are taking on.

For rescues and shelters, it is the weeks following Easter that are the busiest and most trying, since those cute little Easter bunnies start getting dumped off at the shelters when people realize they have taken on more than they are willing to handle.

When you adopt a companion animal, you have an obligation to that pet for the rest of its life. Dumping your rabbit at the shelter is, more times than not, a death sentence for the bunny after Easter.

The shelters and rescues can’t handle the large influx all at once and we get overwhelmed. It is a sad time for many of us because we have to turn bunnies away when we’ve run out of room.

People should think long and hard before relinquishing their ownership to any companion animal for this reason.

Disclosure: A family member of the interviewer has recently adopted two rabbits into a terrific loving home with the help of Dr. Sundberg.

Copyright 2008 DailyInterview.com

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