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Cheryl Williams, a resident of The Plains and a volunteer with River Road Rabbit Rescue, holds Jackie O at the rescue's adoption facility on Sunday, August 21, 2016. Jackie O was given to the rescue by a bartender at Jackie O's and was named accordingly. (EMILY MATTHEWS | PHOTO EDITOR)

Adorable rabbits are helping adults who have developmental disabilities

"Jackie O" prefers hay, pellets and greens over any brew that comes from the bar she’s named for.

The white rabbit, who is less than a year old, found her way to the River Road Rabbit Rescue after a bartender at Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery couldn’t care for her anymore. Jackie O is one of six rabbits that have made their way to the rabbit rescue at 15765 Elm Rock Rd., which opened in June as part of the Sech-Kar Company.

That company provides community-based services for adults who have developmental disabilities. The organization provides both residential services and day programs, which includes taking care of the rabbits.

Suzanne Greif, founder of the River Road Rabbit Rescue and an avid rabbit adopter, and David Harold, the director of the Sech-Kar Company, began the project together after Greif said she wanted some of her rabbits to go to the homes of persons with varying levels of developmental and physical disabilities. 

"Everyone was into it and — boom — we had an adoption center," Greif said.

Harold said the center needed a local activity for the participants to be involved in, and the rabbit center filled that void. 

"They’re learning a lot of new skills as far as taking care of the rabbits, giving them a chance to contribute," Harold said.

So far, one rabbit has been adopted out of the center. After filling out an application and paying the $40 fee, anyone can adopt one of the spayed or neutered rabbits, Greif said.

Greif said she and volunteers nurse the rabbits at her home until they are ready to meet adoption standards. She added that the rabbits need to be "adoption-ready" before they are moved to the adoption center.

About 17 rabbits still need either medical or behavioral rehabilitation, Greif said.

Tibbar, a "behavioral bunny" can’t stop eating or drinking, which could be due to past neglect, Greif said.

Tibbar found his way to Greif after she received a call from someone who found him under a tree. Greif added that the majority of rabbits are dumped around Easter, when about 80 percent of the rabbits given as gifts are later abandoned. 

"He was horribly neglected, fur gone all around his back," Greif said.

Tibbar has his fur back now, but still needs behavioral help before he makes his way to the adoption center.

To take care of rabbits such as Tibbar and keep the adoption center up and running, Greif said they search for funding by applying for grants, requesting donations when the rabbits are adopted and receiving donations when they make home visits to trim nails and complete wellness checks on the rabbits.

Aside from donations, socializing the rabbits is an important aspect of the rescue center, Greif said.

That socialization process includes spending time with volunteers and making appearances at PetSmart on East State Street and at Ohio University’s LGBT picnic.

Volunteers join the program through a variety of avenues. Some volunteer in order to complete community service hours resulting from a court sentence.

People can also find the program through the Ohio University Career and Leadership Development Center volunteer opportunity database.

Volunteers are always welcome, Greif said.

"We just need people to come out and play with the bunnies, too," she said.

One of the center’s volunteers, 11-year-old Lindsey Spencer, spends one day a week volunteering and playing with the rabbits.

Spencer hopes to take Jackie O home one day, "because she’s the cutest, and she’s soft and playful," she said.


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