My love of animals started from early childhood, and from the age of nine I kept rabbits, many of whom were “rescues” from people who no longer wanted them. My experiences as a young adult working in Edinburgh Zoo, the Dog and Cat Home and at the local vets helped my higher degree studies in Endocrinology and Behaviour in animals. Although ill-health cut short my scientific career, a new vocation opened up for me when, in 1993, a local vet brought me a very young brain-damaged wild rabbit for hand rearing. Despite all the odds, “Little Bun” survived. It was whilst making enquiries about finding her a companion that I discovered how desperate the plight of unwanted rabbits actually was. Thus CottonTails® was born.
In the first few years I took in on average 900 unwanted rabbits and 200 guinea pigs a year, plus varying numbers of chinchillas and birds, and since the start I have taken in well over 10,000 animals, the majority of which being rabbits. Average intake was around 250 rabbits a year, and 150 guinea pigs, before the pandemic struck. The decline is not due to less need but is the knock-on effect of improved veterinary techniques resulting in all rabbits being able to be safely neutered so they can be given the chance to live in compatible pairs or small groups such as a litter. This has meant that the size of individual hutches and runs has had to be significantly increased, decreasing the number of animals we took at any one time.
We are not just a rescue centre but also offer advice and basic practical help such as claw clipping and grooming, and the telephone advice line is always busy and provides a lifeline to many rabbit owners across the UK. In addition, CottonTails® is involved in issues relating to education and rabbit welfare, and I strive to keep up to date with advances in veterinary medicine. The rescue centre is a registered charity and is almost entirely self-funded. Veterinary expenses use up the majority of funds, these running costs rarely being covered by donations received when rabbits are re-homed. The charity therefore constantly struggles to keep going. One day we may be lucky enough to secure enough funding to set up a rabbit re-homing centre that would be the best in the country, a centre of excellence in the rabbit world and somewhere that people could visit to learn more about rabbits as well as coming to adopt or hand over an unwanted pet. In the meantime, CottonTails® will continue to provide shelter and safety for the many unwanted and abandoned rabbits and guinea pigs that need us for as long as we are able to do so.
Since Covid, things have had to change radically, and we now have switched to the free Direct Rehoming Service where the animal remains in its current home whilst efforts are made via Facebook and website to find a suitable new home. This is proving to be very successful and it may well be the way forward for the future. CottonTails offers a grant of £50 towards any rabbit needing neutering that is rehomed via this service, and also offers £50 towards male guinea pig castration for guinea pigs that have been rehomed through this service also. There is no charge for this service, although donations to the charity are always welcomed.
Mairwen Guard M.B.E. (Trustee)