Updated: Jan 22, 2020
GANSEVOORT, N.Y. — Help is coming for some of Saratoga County's fluffier residents in need.
Hop on Home Rabbit Sanctuary, Inc., a volunteer-run organization, is in the process of getting approval to become a state-recognized charity. Once that happens, the organization will start work on the construction of a rabbit sanctuary in Gansevoort. The completed facility will have the capacity to support 50 rabbits in need of shelter and care.
Hop on Home was founded by Shelby Wimet-Himelrick, president and CEO, and Sandy McKeever, vice president, who also serve on the board of directors alongside Judy Sorano, Gayle Windisch, and Marilyn Preissler. The all-female board of directors is proud to serve as an example of empowerment and leadership in Saratoga county.
Wimet-Himelrick said the idea for the sanctuary came to her through her position as rabbit leader for the 4-H county club, a position she has held for six years. People were coming to her constantly with rabbits that needed new homes. Overwhelmed by the number of rabbits that were in danger of being abandoned or released into the wild, she decided a sanctuary would be the best solution.
Abandoning a domesticated rabbit outdoors, or trying to turn it loose in the wild, is a death sentence for the animal.
"Domestic rabbits can't survive in the wild," Wimet-Himelrick explained. "Their brain makeup has evolved over time and they have lost their flight or fight instinct. They have no chance of protecting themselves against predators."
As soon as Wimet-Himelrick started reaching out for support for her idea, she received a very positive response. Many of the people she knew were happy to help.
"It's a very exciting time," she commented. "It's come together rather quickly. I've been surrounded by people who have the same ideas to protect and support rabbits."
The Hop on Home Rabbit Sanctuary is going to be built at the corner of Stump St. and Pettis Rd, on property owned by Judy and Steve Sorano. The Soranos own several acres of land, and are using some of the space for greenhouses. When Wimet-Himelrick, who knows them through 4-H, asked about using their land for the sanctuary, they jumped right on board.
An old barn on the property is going to be torn down to make space for the sanctuary. When completed, the new building will be a two-story structure with a long-term shelter for rabbits on the main floor and offices, an education area ideal for field trips, and a quarantine area on the second floor. The sanctuary will feature a large, fully enclosed socialization yard that will allow the rabbits to safely explore and interact outdoors.
This predator-free zone will be fenced in, with gauged wire underground to prevent digging and canvas connected to the fence overhead to keep away hawks. The entire space will be designed to keep the rabbits in and predators out.
Many of the rabbits sheltered at Hop on Home will be available for adoption. An adoption coordinator will work to match a rabbit's personality with a home that's well suited to the animal.
People who are interested in adopting a rabbit can contact Hop on Home through their website, www.hoponhome.org, or through their FaceBook page, Hop on Home Rabbit Sanctuary. There is application paperwork that needs to be filled out before an adoption can happen. The forms can also be filled out at Hop on Home volunteer meetings at the Schuylerville Library.
At the moment, Hop on Home cannot accept donations to support the construction of the rabbit sanctuary, because they are not yet recognized as a state charity. The process should be complete by April 1, and at that point people will be able to make donations through the website, or by selecting Hop on Home as the charity of choice when shopping on Amazon Smile.
There are also plans for fundraisers in the future.
The current plan is to get the sanctuary built and open for business by Jan. 1, 2022, though at the moment things are ahead of schedule.
"Being able to open sooner would definitely help the community," Wimet-Himelrick said.
Many people are unaware of the rabbit abandonment problem in Saratoga County. Rabbits are the third-most abandoned pets in the country, behind cats and dogs, and many people don't know what to do when they are unable to continue caring for them. The best solution is to try to find another home for them, with a shelter or another family.
Releasing them outside is never a good idea.
If you see a rabbit outdoors and suspect it might be an abandoned domestic rabbit, contact Hop on Home or a local shelter to get it into a safe environment. The distinguishing features between a domestic rabbit and a wild one are size - domestic rabbits are bigger, around eight or nine pounds - and fur color - wild rabbit coats are colors that will help them camouflage in nature, such as brown and beige.
Rabbits that are black or white are domestic.
When the sanctuary is complete, all rabbits will be welcomed there, including does with litters and rabbits who are not yet spayed or neutered. No rabbit will be turned away.
Volunteers are always welcome at Hop on Home, and can help out in lots of ways even before the shelter opens. To get involved, follow Hop on Home Rabbit Sanctuary on Facebook.
"Just this month, we got 100 followers," Wimet-Himelrick commented. "To have that much interest in volunteering and support is wonderful."