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.”