Marietta rabbit shelter selected to receive a TV makeover
by Sarah Westwood
June 12, 2014 04:00 AM | 6152 views | 8 8 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Volunteer Lisette Corbin, left, watches as Rhonda Churchwell clips the nails of Gatsby, a year-old rabbit belonging to Maria Ferguson, at The Georgia House Rabbit Society facility at 2280 Shallowford Road, in Marietta. The house is up for a makeover that will be part of a TV program that will upgrade it, including the area where medical issues are addressed.<br>Staff/Jeff Stanton
Volunteer Lisette Corbin, left, watches as Rhonda Churchwell clips the nails of Gatsby, a year-old rabbit belonging to Maria Ferguson, at The Georgia House Rabbit Society facility at 2280 Shallowford Road, in Marietta. The house is up for a makeover that will be part of a TV program that will upgrade it, including the area where medical issues are addressed.
Staff/Jeff Stanton
MARIETTA — Volunteers at the Georgia House Rabbit Society in Marietta were hopping with joy when they found out their facility had been selected to participate in a new TV show dedicated to renovating animal shelters.

The Georgia House Rabbit Society is a chapter of the National House Rabbit Society, an organization working to educate the public about rabbit care and provides resources to chapters such as Georgia’s that help find homes for abandoned bunnies.

The local chapter is nestled in a house off Shallowford Road near Lassiter High School, marked only by the pink bunny outline painted on the mailbox.

A reality program that has yet to hit the air, “Animal House” will begin filming its pilot in October, according to producer Alycia Barlow-Hadfield, and Georgia House Rabbit Society has been selected to receive a televised makeover for one of the show’s first six episodes.

Edie Sayeg of Marietta, who is co-chapter manager at the rabbit center, said her team could not afford to make the kinds of renovations they’ve been offered without the help of “Animal House.”

“This is like winning a bunny lottery. There just are no words to express our joy at being chosen for this show. It is a huge game changer for GHRS and the awareness it will bring to the needs of domestic house rabbits both locally and nationally,” Sayeg said in a joint statement with Ronda Churchwell and Nancy McConville, the other managers of the center.

Barlow-Hadfield praised the center’s hard work as a standout among shelters from around the nation that applied for assistance from the show.

“The big reason we chose them is that they are an amazing group,” Barlow-Hadfield explained. “There aren’t a lot of shelters that specialize in rabbit shelter.

“They’re just really a shining example of organizations and what needs to be done.”

Barlow-Hadfield said she and Rebecca Rodriguez, the show’s creator, have been developing the program concept for several years. Using the same formula as “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” Barlow-Hadfield expressed hope the show could pull people together to tackle the major projects “Animal House” will undertake.

Producers of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” selected deserving families around the country and renovated their homes at no cost to the residents during the nine years it was on the air.

Local businesses donated building materials and skilled labor, while community volunteers banded together to finish the improvements in a rapid time frame.

Barlow-Hadfield did not have an estimation of what the renovations will cost, but she said local businesses in the rural Washington town where the pilot will be shot have donated all the products and services needed for the shelter project there, and she hopes to see the same type of results from the community here in Cobb.

The crowded house containing all 40 to 50 of the center’s rabbits will grow thanks to an expansion on the show’s dime, Sayeg said.

Aging pens housing rabbits waiting for adoption will be revamped — and more will be added to make room for some of the more than 100 homeless bunnies now on the center’s waiting list.

But the center has not always been such a community success.

Sayeg said she and some of the center’s other founders ran the shelter out of their basements and garages for four years before the Rabbit Center began to take shape.

“I put my business sense together, and said we’ve got to do something sustainable,” she said.

Sayeg and a handful of others poured their own money into a crumbling foreclosed house off Shallowford Road in desperate need of repairs. She said her team was told it was in danger of being torn down when they purchased the property. Thousands of volunteer hours and nearly $50,000 later, the rabbit house now hosts a bustling business dedicated to the community’s abandoned bunny population.

Sayeg said her shelter’s model includes selling rabbit supplies, providing boarding services and grooming.

“All of these are necessary for people who have rabbits. And there’s nowhere else for people to do it as safe and as well as we do it,” Sayeg explained. “Boarding rabbits in a vet’s office with cats and dogs can stress rabbits.”

Education also plays an important role in her shelter’s operation, Sayeg noted. Every adoption applicant must participate in a course designed to expose them to the basics of bunny care before they can take one home.

Most of the applicants at the center are families, Sayeg said, although she noted she has sent rabbits home with every demographic under the sun. However, she warned the vast majority of children who want bunnies grow tired of them in three to six months. “That’s why we work hard to educate a family before they bring a rabbit into their home. We want it to be a good experience for everybody and every bunny, and we work hard with families to ensure this.”

Sayeg said her team screens every prospective rabbit owner through a series of phone interviews and observed interactions with bunnies. Less dedicated rabbit-seekers could easily head to the local pet store if they aren’t up for the process, she explained.

“We’ve put a lot of love and money into these bunnies. And we know they can go and buy a rabbit for $10 or $20,” Sayeg said of the adoption route. “But these rabbits have already been through that and we don’t want them to go through that again.”

The center requires applicants to pay an $80 adoption fee for a single rabbit and $130 fee for a pair.

Bunnies receive medical attention and spaying and neutering services from veterinarians who work with the shelter.

Since 1997, Sayeg said the center has found homes for an average of 150 bunnies a year. This year, the shelter is on track to adopt out 200 rabbits, she estimated.

The center’s annual budget has swelled from around $20,000 in its early days to a projected $150,000 this year.

Yet for all of its success, the center’s long journey to save house rabbits is far from over.

“We’ve had a lot of bumps in the road, a lot of challenges,” Sayeg said. “And we still have a long way to go.”

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Rabbit advocate?
June 13, 2014
There would be no need for shelters like this one if it weren't for irresponsible breeders. I suspect almost all of the rabbits in this shelter have come from people who decide a rabbit is not the right pet for their family, but can't find any breeder or pet store that will take it from them. Accidental litters of babies also result from these under-informed buyers. Thank goodness this group helps to inform people of the responsibilities of rabbit ownership before they allow an adoption. Too bad more stores and breeders don't do the same.
Rabbit advocate
June 14, 2014
"Rabbit advocate?" is correct, pet owners experimenting in rabbit raising/breeding (they use normal inexpensive pet, not expensive dwarf, rabbits) which inadvertently gets out of hand is indeed problematic. The HRS does great work in this regard, and in this I support them...

However, I was not talking about the breeding of normal european rabbits (aka the pet bunny). I was talking about a genetic niche, regardless how it got to the HRS, and how whomever bred the dwarf (not to mention the bunny's efforts!) went thru a lot of trouble to achieve the particular dwarf's characteristics - and sterilizing it aborts the lineage of the precious thing.

The dwarf rabbit is not like your european (domestic) or american (hare/wild) rabbits. Sterilization of them is just unfathomable, again - regardless of how they get to the pet store, HRS, etc.
Rabbit advocate
June 12, 2014
I've been to this place - it is a building/fire code nightmare (missing required exits, verticle opening violations, etc.).

Also, they have been known to be responsible for the sterilization of entire dwarf rabbit breed bloodlines, breeds whose genetics are now lost because of their obsession to sterilize anything that looks like a rabbit. These dwarf bunnies are the results of careful breeding for years - some for hundreds of years - now lost to us thanks to the overzealous nuts!!!

A single 'show quality' dwarf rabbit could be worth hundreds of dollars (triple crown grand champions value in the thousands), which if they left it alone and sold it, could easily help finance the joint. Instead they glaze over and snip humanity's efforts to breed in the tiny, passive, gentle creatures for the 'rescuers' steamrolling efforts... sick on many levels.

Frank Lee
June 12, 2014
I have been to this place. There is a passed inspection from the Fire Marshall, exits are adequate with correct signage, and it contains 4 times the fire extinguishers needed. Also they spell vertical correctly.

Breeders have been responsible for the overpopulation of the entire spectrum of rabbit bloodlines. Their careless obsession to breed anything that looks like a rabbit have caused the impurities and inbrededness thru the entire domestic rabbit population. The results of careless breeding for generations of rabbits have led to breeders discarding unwanted "product" in anyway possible, including abandonment, and the fact that domestic rabbits depend on human interaction are lost on these inhumane nuts!!!

A single 'show quality' dwarf rabbit could be worth hundreds of dollars, provided that rabbit is bred and the offspring are sold at a rate of some 12 litters a year. The 'not-quite-show-quality' offspring will be neglected, abandoned, and/or abused. These are the ones that concern GHRS. In breeders' steamrolling efforts of finding that 'show quality' rabbit, a 1 in 1000 rabbit, 999 are neglected and discarded......sick on many more levels.

Check your own humanity before judging others.....Your unsolicited opinion is not of any value to any other person who has or will walk the Earth
June 13, 2014
well put, frank lee. i was reading the above post and kept thinking, "that's not true", "that's incorrect", and "that's just plain wrong". thanks for verbalizing it so well.
Frankly ;-)
June 13, 2014
Fire Marshal...

...typo's, gotta love 'em >|
June 14, 2014
This post is completely inappropriate. Frank Lee explained the inaccuracies very well. (Thank you!) This shelter is amazing. EVERY rabbit is worth our time. And no, they have not killed off any breeds. My goodness, that is a ridiculous statement. They try to save, care for, and love all of the bunnies that they find. One cannot imagine what they have been through. We have had hoarding situations, Easter abandonments, etc. Sterilization is also much better for a rabbit's health. Mine had uterine cancer because her former owner neglected to get her spayed. We want to just love the buns, not show or sell them. Rabbits are social pets. Did you even know that there is always a couple who lives there 24/7 to watch over all of the bunnies? It's a huge effort and all we want in return is respect for these lovebugs.
Misty Simmons
June 14, 2014
I felt like I just had to reply to your comment about HRS wiping out entire breeding lines of valuable rabbits. I just have to ask- how is this even possible? If they were such valuable and rare breeding specimens, how did they end up in a shelter? HRS doesn't go around stealing people's rabbits. The only time HRS has taken in large quantities of rabbits was in a hoarding situation, or a breeder who was neglecting or raising rabbits in a very inhumane or unhealthy situation and animal control had taken the rabbits away from the breeder, and had requested help from HRS. They would have lost the rabbits ANYWAYS because of their lack of basic care for the animals. So, if preserving a certain line of breeding is so important, then breeders need to take better care of their animals.
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