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A Hoppy Ending |
A Hoppy Ending Abandoned Bunnies in the Lap of Luxury By Megan Rosenfeld Washington Post Staff Writer Saturday, March 29 1997; Page C01 The Washington Post Joe and Sandi Monaco would like you to consider adopting a rabbit as a pet. As far as they're concerned, bunnies are cuter than Fido, as clean as Socks, more fun than a fish, smarter than gerbils and more loyal than canaries. You can walk them on a leash, sit them on your lap, take them for a ride in your car or carry them around like a baby that never turns into a teenager. You can even let them live in your house and hop cutely around your carpet. The Monacos like rabbits so much that they have 22 living in their Centreville town house. They have 22 because there are too many people out there who think a live bunny is a cute little Easter accoutrement -- and then find out it "grows and poops," as Sandi puts it, and suddenly there's another case of cruelty to bunnies for the Monacos to resolve. "Eighty percent of those sold at Easter don't live to be a year old," said Joe sadly. Indeed, of the bunnies currently residing in their rabbit sanctuary, 18 are "disabled." Joe Monaco, a mechanical engineer, gives a tour of the bunny dormitory in the basement, a clean, well-lighted place with stacks of wire cages, each with a name tag attached. The smell isn't bad -- a hint of ammonia scrubbed away with generous lashings of white vinegar. "This is April. Her foot was cut off for a good luck charm, probably with pruning shears," he says solemnly. "Teddy is severely maloccluded, so once a month he goes to the vet to have his teeth ground down. Sandy and Oreo have bad head tilt -- a severe middle ear infection that can be fatal. Brady is just unusual -- every time we try to adopt him out he gets sick. I guess you could say he has emotional problems." Romeo and Bandit are anemic, Buster has a leg that was broken and healed badly, Hope was attacked by dogs and lost her foot and tail. And Peanut is the newest and littlest -- somebody dropped him off at the Monacos' vet to be "put down"; they are nursing the severely malnourished one-pound rabbit back to health. There's nothing like a hip-hopper with diarrhea to discourage a new owner, they note. One half of their basement is devoted to live bunnies, the other half is devoted to bunny statues, pillows, pictures and, on one set of shelves, the ashes of departed rabbits -- each in a box with a big name tag and a framed photograph next to it. The bunny theme reigns on the upper floors as well. In fact, it would be safe to say that every possible opportunity for bunniness has been taken -- the upholstery, the art on the walls, the dishes, the candlesticks, the teapots, the lamps, even the bed. Sandi has hand-painted bunnies on her clothes and her furniture and her earrings. Scooter was the first. Before that, they had no pets -- indeed, while Joe grew up on a Loudoun County farm, Sandi had never had a pet in her life. "She wanted a clean house," he said. "For 14 years of marriage she wanted a clean house." Joe bought Scooter after Sandi's mother died, thinking it would cheer her up. They soon became obsessed with rabbits, joined the House Rabbit Society, which promotes the adoption of rabbits as house pets. They hate the traditional backyard rabbit hutch, however appealing the cross ventilation, because they leave the bunnies vulnerable to animal attacks and loneliness. The place for a rabbit is in your lap, they say. Now they have become known as "fosterers" -- people who will take in an abandoned, hurting bunny and give it a good home. Their vet bills total about $15,000 a year. They buy two cases of parsley, 50 pounds of carrots and several bunches of dandelion greens every week. They go through a bale of hay every two or three weeks. Not too many people in their housing development seem to need bales of hay. "It's made me a nicer person," said Sandi, a former hairdresser who now mothers rabbits full time. "I wasn't a very compassionate person. But when you're around animals who bring you to your knees, you know you are going to change." Scooter was with them for more than six years. The weird thing was, two months after he died, his pal Skeeter just curled up and died, too. "His heart was broken," Joe averred. There have been maybe 60 rabbits over the years, all memorialized in photo albums. Snickers, Spooky, Sparkles . . . Skipper needed 200 injections to cure an infection and was a bit of a nipper. There was Spencer, and litter mates Marilyn and Jenny, who hated each other. No Harveys, and no Peters. They show off Nicholas, who was retrieved from an animal shelter right before Christmas. "They said he was mean," Sandi said, cuddling the big, white bunny. "Does he look mean? Are you mean, sweet thing?" She puts him on the floor to go "hoppin' and droppin'." When he leaves a few little pellets she just picks them up and throws them away. Rabbits are capable of being house-trained, the Monacos claim. They say their rabbits mostly go in their litter boxes. Nicholas is a New Zealand rabbit. The kind that is bred for, um, rabbit stew. White fur coats. Key chains. But there will be no saute de lapereau served in this house. "We won't even go into restaurants that serve rabbit," Joe said. Today they will go to a meeting of the House Rabbit Society, which has several hundred members locally; about 6,000 nationwide. "This is a big time of year for us," said Sandi, who doesn't really like the concept of the Easter Bunny. "We'll soon start getting calls from people that their rabbit is dying. And it's because they don't know how to take care of them properly." "Our advice," said Joe, "is if you aren't going to take it seriously, buy a stuffed one." @CAPTION: The bunny hutch: Joe and Sandi Monaco's rabbit-filled home in Centreville. © Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company
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