Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Suzy Q: Our shelter bunny

Every six months or so for the past three years, Lilly (11) pulls out the phone book, opens it to the Yellow Pages section of Animal Shelters and begins her calls. "Yes, I was wondering how old you have to be to volunteer at your shelter?" she asks politely. In between rejections (you have to be 16) she comments to Grace (14) "They don't get it. They think we just want to go and cuddle the kittens." "Well don't we?" Grace asks.

No. That is not what Lilly wants to do. She wants to play with the friendless, wash the dirty, clip the long-nailed, clean the dirty cage, sweep the poo, scrub the grungy food dishes. In short, she has a calling and it is to care for shelter animals. But no one gets that. They just think she's another kid who wants to pet a puppy.

That is until we met Toni. Toni runs Red Door Shelter a rabbit sanctuary in Chicago. This wonderful place rescues the homeless and unwanted bunnies (think of the Easter pet that turns out to be more work than someone thought). It was to this shelter that Lilly dragged me about a year ago for "rabbit spa day" a fund-raising event where crazy bunny people get together to have their rabbits groomed and photographed and oh yeah, maybe take another homeless bunny home (which is how we got Suzy Q). Thanks to that event, adoption, and subsequent emails, Toni caught on pretty quickly that Lilly was not your average "can I come play with the bunnies" kid. Which is why she so very, very graciously said yes when I asked if she would make an exception to the age requirement and allow Lilly to volunteer.

The first day of volunteering was last Wednesday. All the way to the shelter Lilly was saying under her breath, "Oh yeah, Heartland Shelter, I'm too young? Oh really, too young you say!? Well aren't you sorry now." She was so excited she nearly binkied (that's rabbit talk for jumping with joy) out of the car as we pulled up to the shelter. I left her there in Toni's capable hands agreeing to return in four hours.

And it was there I found her four hours later, covered in rabbit fur and ecstatically happy about her new job. All the way home she told me about the rabbits she met and played with. About their (often sad) histories but their (almost always) happy endings. There was one bunny in particular she was taken with. Avery.

Avery, she explained, has been there for three years. No one wants to adopt him because he cannot be neutered. He has a heart condition and if they put him under for the surgery he most likely would not survive. So he stays there but not many of the volunteers want to play with him because un-neutered male rabbits have, ahem, some hygiene issues.

"Oh Mom," she gushed, "Avery is so great! I went in his pen and he binkied, then he sprayed to mark his territory, then he pooped all over, and then he humped my leg. I just love him! He's so full of life!"

From the backseat her big brother offered this advice, "Don't go falling for every guy who humps your leg."

Lilly ignored this and began in earnest on another story about two rabbits who were saved from Afghanistan. Seriously.

I know, I've said it before, but I have to say it again, there is no joy like the joy of watching your child find his or her bliss and by God Lilly has found it at Red Door Shelter. Here, at this magical place, she can finally spend time with her beloved buns AND the like-minded, dedicated people who care about them as much as she does. And since I am not so inclined to spend time with rabbits I am mighty grateful there is such a place that welcomes her.

So here's to Toni and her shelter and if my small tale moves you maybe you would consider a small donation to Red Door to thank those who take care of God's smallest creatures --like Lilly and homeless bunnies.


  1. Astounding.

    Not sure what you guys did, but every one of your kids is a masterpiece.

    Anonymous MM

  2. Toni is an amazing woman!! She's the patron saint of bunnies :) Your daughter sounds like a peach too! Keep up the good work! Love your blog, BTW

  3. That's one great story about Lilly...

    I can't imagine an 11-year old making phone calls like that!