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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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