TT with HD: Debbie T.
HD: Alright, are you ready to go?
HD: Let's actually teeter totter up and down--very carefully, because I know you expressed some concern.
HD: Are you doing all right?
DT: I'm doing okay.
HD: Okay, welcome to the teeter totter.
DT: Thank you for having me!
HD: So we are sitting here right in the direct sun are you warming up in your bunny suit quite nicely?
DT: I am! It's a beautiful day.
HD: So did you have the bunny costume before you started working with Midwest Rabbit?
DT: No, I did not. They made it especially for me.
HD: Really? So this is a custom-made bunny suit!
DT: It is.
HD: I have to tell you that I am relieved that the suit does not involve like a full head, so you can actually see your face. I was a bit concerned.
DT: People are afraid when they can't see your face. When I'm working with the children, they do, I think, take to me a little bit better seeing me.
HD: So they're not confused at all about whether it you are a real rabbit or not?
DT: No. I try to trick them and tell them that I am, but. [laugh]
HD: But they know it's all make-believe. So the name Midwest Rabbit Rescue and Re-home suggests that it's quite a broad geographic area that you serve. And you mentioned just before we hopped on here that there are some rabbits from Chicago in there? How does somebody from Chicago--whoa, are you okay?
DT: Yeah, I'm okay.
HD: Alright. How does somebody in Chicago even hear about you guys?
DT: You know, I'm not sure where the relationship started. But we have developed a relationship with a Chicago group. And when they are overloaded, we do take them. I mean, we truly serve the Midwest. We have taken rabbits in as far away as Pennsylvania, as far as Wisconsin. Whenever we are able.
HD: And does it go the other direction as well? So if somebody who lived in, I don't know, Columbus, Ohio, if they drove up here to Plymouth and said, I'd like a bunny ...
DT: ... oh, sure!
HD: You wouldn't hold it against them that they were from Columbus, Ohio?
DT: No. People find it hard to believe, but we have even adopted out as far as New York. So definitely people come from Ohio, too, because they are a neighboring state. We are an exclusive all-rabbit indoor rescue. So that makes us different from everybody else. Sure, the Humane Society has rabbits come up, but this is a different way of looking at shelters. They can come and they can really visit and get to know the rabbits. We know our rabbits.
HD: So anybody who is coming to visit you guys is here for a rabbit. They are not here for a pet in general.
DT: Right. They are sure that they want a rabbit. Whereas maybe at the Humane Society they're not decided if they are going to get a cat or a dog.
HD: I used to work at the Humane Society at Huron Valley.
DT: Uh huh, we work with them!
HD: I remember when we would wind up with rabbits, it was always--I worked at the level of cleaning cages--and you know you get it down to a fine science, cleaning the dog kennels, you get used to the routine. And rabbits didn't fit into my routine. We weren't really set up to deal with them. It was always a matter of, Okay, where are we going to put these rabbits? And nobody had any true expertise. I mean we knew enough that, okay, they need some food and some water, but. I notice that you guys let them out and run around [inside]?
DT: Sure. They need exercise, just like we do.
HD: See, that would be a bad move at a Humane Society--where would they run around? Up and down the dog kennels? [laugh]
DT: Right, right. all of us have years of experience. Personally I have owned a rabbit for 21 years.
DT: Not the same rabbit.
HD: I was going to say, Wow! I thought my background reading suggested that their lifespan is more like what, 12-14 years, something like that?
DT: My oldest rabbit that I have had, Benjamin, was 12 and a half. So they do live a lot longer, I think that's a misconception, too, that people think they are like hamsters. They [hamsters] only live a couple of years.
HD: But it also means that if you are going to get one [a rabbit], then you are in it for a long haul.
DT: Sure, true. And we don't question when people surrender, we are just happy to be able to do it. As you saw [on some of the rabbit cage cards] some of the kids went away to school and they couldn't take them. Sometimes they do get them as younger, at a younger age, and they have to get rid of them at a certain point.
HD: So you don't necessarily question why people are giving them up. But I assume there is some kind of procedure and then also for adopting out? An adoption interview, you want to make sure that ...
DT: ... sure. We have a surrender intake, we have several people who specifically do that, and then we have a very thorough adoption process. We don't just adopt out. We actually go through a list, and make sure that they are informed. We want them to come and volunteer and get to know the personality, since all of the rabbits have their own individual personality. We want to make sure that it is a well-suited match.
HD: So if I were to say to you, Hey, you know that--what's his name, the angora?
HD: Angelo the angora rabbit. If I were to say, You know, I want to take him home today! I'm just going to take his cage and lash him to the top of the teeter totter and pedal him down the road back to Ann Arbor, how does that sound?
DT: No. [laugh]
HD: So, which part don't you like? Strapping his cage to the back of the teeter totter and rolling down the road, or ...
DT: Pretty much all of the above! [laugh] But Angelo, obviously he is an affectionate rabbit. He needs someone who is going to spend time with him and give him attention. Some rabbits don't need a lot of attention, just like some people don't.
HD: I would want to give him belly rubs.
DT: I think he would like that.
HD: Do you know that for a fact? Or are you just trying to talk him up?
DT: No, I think he might like that. Actually, he doesn't know you, and he nuzzled down and got all comfortable for you to pet him.
HD: Because that's basically what I need in an animal--an animal that will let me give it a belly rub. And my two cats are sort of not really on board with the program.
DT: Well, cats and rabbits can get along. Dogs and rabbits can get along. When you mentioned the Humane Society--they can.
HD: I have read that, and I'm thinking, the one cat that I have--she's I guess about a year old--she is really really bitey with people. And I'm just thinking she would rip a rabbit to shreds. Can rabbits defend themselves against a cat?
DT: They can. Actually if you look at rabbits fighting, they can get pretty mean. I mean just like any animal, they defend themselves.
HD: So they what, they thump ... ?
DT: Scratch, and bite.
HD: With their front paws?
DT: Uh huh.
DT: No, I have had rabbits and dogs together. It's just like some people can have one dog, or some people can have a couple. Every situation is different.
HD: So tell me about this big visit. It's this coming Thursday?
DT: Yes. And we are so excited!
HD: So what's it called, the Zootoo people?
DT: Zootoo dot com. Back in September or October we received a box in the mail that asked us if we would like to enter into a shelter makeover contest. It kind of seemed far-fetched at first. It seemed too good to be true. But we signed up, and we entered, and it has been amazing the people who have supported us. It was free to enter, they went online and they joined the community and it's all about awareness for shelters. People don't realize--at least I didn't realize--that there are so many animal shelters out there all over the place. And there is a huge need, so many cute pets are euthanized every day, because there are just too many of them.
HD: Do you guys ever have to end up putting rabbits down because you run out of space for them?
DT: We don't. We are a no-kill shelter. So we take in what we can, and if we can't take them in, unfortunately those rabbits, I don't know what happens to those. They might get euthanized. But our rabbits stay here as long for their whole life or until they get adopted.
HD: Do you happen to know off the top your head what's the longest time any of your rabbits have been in there?
DT: Well, since we have only been here for a couple of years it's only a couple of years. The other really nice thing is that we have an adoption policy where if something happens--let's say after they get the rabbit home--we work with the people and they could possibly bring it back and get a different one, if it just doesn't work out. So it's all about the welfare of the rabbits and making sure that they are best suited. Like we talked about before, some people like a touchy-feeley pet and some people want an independent one, don't want to touch them--we're all different.
HD: So what does this site visit by the Zootoo people entail?
DT: The judges are going to come--we are actually going to be in Kellogg Park in downtown Plymouth. We are going to get an award. We actually placed number six in the nation in the contest, so they are going to give us a plaque. And the city will receive a plaque. So it will be a pretty big deal.
HD: So the relevant city fathers are going to be on hand to receive the plaque?
DT: Yep. And all of our fans, and anyone is welcome, the more people the better. And then after the press conference we will travel here, and they will come through with their video crew, and they will look around and see who we are, and what we need and they will judge us. There are six judges. It will be posted on Zootoo dot com, a short video. I think we are number 16 on the tour on the list of 20, and then May 15 is a pet expo in Orlando, Florida where I will be--without the costume--so you probably wouldn't recognize me there.
HD: I probably wouldn't!
DT: All 20 contestants--a representative from each shelter--will be on stage, and they will announce the top four. The makeover is a million-dollar makeover, but at that point everyone who is there will get $5000. Then the top four people will wait and see. The first runner-up actually wins $10,000 and the grand prize winner will win up to $900,000.
HD: Wow, that's a lot of cash.
DT: It's a lot of money. It would be incredible. Any way we look at it, it's incredible. It has brought a lot of exposure to us, and hopefully we will get a lot of people who want to step up and help us--volunteer or monetarily.
HD: So even if you don't score the big win on this occasion, it might be a longer term big win.
DT: Yeah. I have gone to a couple of city council meetings and I've gone to the Veterans, I've gone to Kiwanis a couple of times. People still don't know that we exist. So the awareness that we are here and that we need help. I need to go back and follow up--some of the businesses that helped us pass out things throughout the contest, they have offered to help us. So whatever it is, if it's a small amount or large amount, we need help.
HD: So one of the things that you do, which I think is quite nice, is that you give away the compost for free?
DT: We are very green here. Being in Plymouth, even though we're not in Ann Arbor! [laugh] We go through and obviously we produce a lot of compost material every day. And we give it away for free. We go through spurts where people want it and then people don't want it. But what we'd like to see is all year long people taking it.
HD: So, somebody committed to actually taking it off your hands?
DT: Yeah. We work with an inner-city gardening group in Detroit, as well as Hamtramck, and we have a couple of different gardeners who take it, but we are always looking for people to come and take it. We give it away, we want you to take it, it's free! Bunny poop and goat poop are the best materials for composting, I don't know if you know that.
HD: What was the other animal you named?
HD: Goat, ah, interesting. I didn't realize that. Yeah, I was thinking, I got it into my head that it would be an interesting project to say, every Sunday, ride up here with the trailer and cart it back to Ann Arbor. Because, you know Ann Arborites, they get on board with green stuff. And I was thinking, how much would a typical Ann Arborite pay for a bag of bunny poop? So I called Downtown Home and Garden in downtown Ann Arbor--they carry cow manure and stuff like that. I thought I would just price it out. For a 40 pound bag--how much would you guess a 40-pound bag of cow manure costs?
DT: $10? I'm not sure.
HD: Yeah, I was thinking probably in that range. But, $2.50!
DT: Yeah, well, we give it away for free. But if people want to give us money, then we take it! We would be more than happy, even, just bring us some vinegar!
HD: I know, you mentioned vinegar before. What do you guys use vinegar for!?
DT: We clean with vinegar.
HD: Oh, okay.
DT: You know, chemicals, it's amazing, we don't even know all the effects that they have. But vinegar is a very strong cleaner, and if they [the rabbits] eat it it's okay.
HD: And you just use it straight, or do you dilute it?
DT: We dilute it.
HD: Any kind of vinegar, or?
DT: White vinegar is better. But, I mean, apple cider vinegar is good too.
HD: So, I'm taking a bag home of compost, more or less as a symbolic thing. I will see how it works out.
DT: It won't burn your soil, you can put it down right away. The other great thing is that rabbits are territorial, so if you're having problems with rabbits in your yard, it might deter them from coming around.
HD: You know, in my yard not so much. But I've got a garden plot out with the Project Grow people, and it's really funny, their literature introducing you to the garden site says something like, Rabbits and woodchucks will 'visit' your plot. [laugh] Which I think is kind of a euphemism for, The wildlife will wreck your garden. So I'm kind of interested to see how that plays out. But yeah, absolutely, I will sprinkle this around there, once they get everything staked out and ready for us to start gardening out there.
DT: Now we do separate--the litter boxes have a horse bedding--it's just sawdust compressed--and then we also have mixtures of hay, so if you have a compost bin, it's a really good thing to mix in with your compost.
HD: So what's in the bag is not just the bunny poop, it's the whole bedding, the whole deal?
DT: I would have to look in the bag, I'm not real sure.
HD: Yeah, I'm not going to make you look in the bag!
DT: But we produce a lot of it every day.
HD: And when you say 'we', you're speaking in solidarity with the bunnies.
DT: [laugh] Yes!
HD: You know you said something a while back about people being well-suited for bunny keeping, and you are obviously well-suited--to coin a phrase--in your costume. So based on your costume you are a like, what, a lop-eared rabbit?
DT: Right now, I would be a lop-eared.
HD: So do you have inserts that you can put in there to turn yourself into a different breed?
DT: No, actually we were talking about that. I would like to get a little bit different costume maybe in the future. But right now my costume needs a little bit of work--my ears don't stay up that well. It was a first costume.
HD: It's oh, so you have a plan for ...
DT: ... we are hoping to have multiple costumes so that when we are in parades that we will be able to have more bunnies. We have been in three parades so far, we try to bring awareness through the parades.
HD: This is like Fourth of July parades?
DT: Fourth of July. We were in the Festival of Lights in Novi in November. And recently we were in the St. Patty's Day Parade in Royal Oak. So going different places, and bringing awareness--those people had no idea that we existed.
HD: I was thinking for the Fourth of July parades, you guys need like a summertime version of the costume.
DT: I'm thinking you're right! [laugh]
HD: Because I'm looking at you on the other end of the teeter totter here thinking, Wow, you must be just baking.
DT: It's getting kind of warm.
HD: Yeah, well is there anything you want to make sure we cover before we hop off?
DT: I want to make sure that people know that we are here! And if they are interested in helping, they can call. The compost, we talked about that.
HD: Do you have a favorite bunny in there?
DT: You know, it changes. I have several right now. Angelo is one of my favorites. Just because he's such a good presenter. He really is a loving bunny.
HD: Listen, thanks a lot for riding!
DT: Oh, thank you!