Gwen Butler has dedicated her life to helping rabbits. Grace Hammond meets the Yorkshire pensioner.
Most 70-year-olds are putting their feet up during their retirement, but not Yorkshirewoman Gwen Butler
In fact, her Richmond house isn’t just her home, but a warren for the 20-plus rescued rabbits she helped save over the years. And, in the run up to this year’s Rabbit Awareness Week (RAW) on June 18-26, she’s spreading the word about why buddies for bunnies are just as important as BFFs for humans.
“They’re such interesting but misunderstood creatures,” says Gwen, who set up her Bunny Burrows rescue centre 20 years ago after witnessing how many unwanted rabbits there were at her local RSPCA. “And this means a lot of them end up as rejects at pet shops or abandoned by owners. While cats and dogs get rehomed quickly, rabbits are often overlooked.”
And when it comes to pet rabbits, Gwen believes people should have two – or none at all.
“Every rabbit should have a friend,” she says. “When I meet owners with one rabbit who say ‘they get enough companionship from me’, I say: ‘do you eat your meals with them, groom them 24 hours a day and talk to them at night time?’ – to a rabbit, there’s no replacement for another rabbit.”
At Gwen’s house everyone has a bunny buddy.
“Before I even get downstairs in the morning I’m looking after rabbits,” laughs Gwen. “There’s two live in my spare bedroom, and a paralyzed bunny in the living room, as well as two baby hares to hand-rear,” she says. “Then, just outside my kitchen door in the converted garage there’s all my other rabbits. I even have drawings of rabbits on my wallpaper!”
Feeding, mucking out, exercising and socialising her rabbits (as well as her 11 tortoises, 20 guinea pigs, and a pygmy hedgehog) takes most of Gwen’s day, but in the evening – sometimes right up until midnight – she’s also selling goods on eBay to raise funds for the centre. It costs more than £200 a week just to buy fresh fruit and veg for her animals and the veterinary expenses tot up to more than £1,500 a month.
All sorts of rabbits have made the journey to and from Bunny Burrows over the years – and Gwen has a special relationship with the road workers on the A1, who bring her injured wild rabbits to look after.
“We had one rabbit, Charlotte, who was thrown out of a car window and had injured legs, and another called Freeway, who had no tail, half a nose and no ear. He would sit up and beg for his porridge in the morning!” recalls Gwen. “Once they’re fit, we’ll either foster them to experienced carers or rehome in pairs or as a companion for another rabbit – but they can stay here as long as they like, I’m in no hurry.”
For Gwen, educating rabbit owners, pet shops, young people and even vets about rabbit health and welfare is all part of her day job.
“Rabbits are my life – and I’m passionate about making their lives better,” says Gwen. “I’ve always said I was a rabbit in my previous life.”