Development plans threaten the habitat of domestic rabbits living at Alameda Point.

Photo: Tania Fardella

The Rabbit Whisperer of Alameda Point
By Tania Fardella
Published in the Alameda Sun August 22, 2008

In the shadows of both the old and the new, in the stark contrast between abandoned barracks, fine spirits distilleries and special-effects studios dotting the former Navy base now known as Alameda Point, something enchanting stirs. Whether bounding gracefully across the diverse landscape of freshly cut grass, paved roads and raw earthen fields, dashing playfully amongst wild underbrush and the wheels of long-forgotten military vehicles, or pausing to stretch out and relax in the warm sunshine, their very presence graces their surroundings with a magical, spellbinding aura.

And yet, while they dig extensive underground warrens and live in complex social groups similar to their wild relatives, daily life for the colony of domestic rabbits who make their home at the Point is fraught with danger: they are highly vulnerable to predators including hawks, raccoons and opossums, and susceptible to being struck by vehicles that regularly pass through on their way to antique fairs, car shows, and the homes and businesses scattered across the former base. Since they are domestic, the area's feral rabbit population will not accept them, so they are unable to compete for food. In addition, one of the most critical long-term challenges they face is the uncertain future of their habitat itself due to the impending, but still largely undetermined, development plans for Alameda Point.

The rabbits originally found their way to the area long ago as pets of military families. As families transferred to other locales, many weren't allowed to bring animals along so, sadly, over time a number of bunnies were set free. The former base has also been known as a spot where unwanted pets are too often abandoned. As years passed, the domestic rabbit population grew to hundreds.

As their lives hang in a fragile balance, Alameda resident Robin Summeril found hers serendipitously changed, and forever intertwined with theirs, after she "accidentally" discovered the rabbits on a sunny afternoon in 2002. While on a walk at the Point with her grandchildren and German shepherd Kelly, she noticed a small group of rabbits roaming free. "Back then I knew nothing about rabbits," she said. "I started bringing along fresh fruit and vegetables to feed them during my walks, and was so surprised at how trusting and relaxed they seemed to be."

Nearly six months later she recognized one of the bunnies she'd been feeding, captured in a humane trap set by the Alameda animal shelter. She took it home, went to the shelter to inquire about the reason for the traps, and was told they had been implemented at the request of the Parks department. Feeling more and more compelled to help the rabbits, she began volunteering at the shelter, socializing and fostering for their Rabbit Row program.

On Labor Day 2003 and in the weeks following, she and roughly 15 volunteers conducted two "roundups" at the Point, where they caught a total of six rabbits, one of whom was pregnant and gave birth to five kits a short time later. Summeril created flyers to seek potential adopters for the babies and, with the encouragement of her friend and fellow shelter volunteer Rich Sievers, in October 2003 made the decision to start Alameda Point Bunny Rescue.

She operates the organization from her West End home, where each rabbit enjoys nutritious food, affection, socialization, exercise and grooming. Veterinary care is provided if necessary, as well as spay or neuter. She also works to educate the public about proper care, behavior, and the many joys of living with house rabbits, and hopes to eventually match each of the bunnies with loving families in safe, happy, forever homes.

At least three times a week, Summeril visits the rabbits at the Point. She brings food, checks for signs of injury or health issues, and spends time with them. If there is need for medical attention, she either treats the patients on-site, or brings them to VCA Animal Hospital in Oakland. She is in regular, ongoing communication with both the Alameda Recreation and Parks Department and the City of Alameda in regards to the rabbits' welfare. She has requested that in case of definite plans for development of specific areas where the rabbits are living, she receive warning in ample time. Her plan at that point would be to conduct a large-scale roundup and corral as many of the rabbits as possible, screen them for health issues then bring them into foster care. Ultimately they would be available for adoption.

Though she has known and cared for many, the rabbit eternally closest to her heart is Mocha, whom she found in the shelter's trap on that fateful day in 2002. "Mocha was so loving when I brought her home, she befriended Kelly immediately. She was my girl," she explains. Indeed, a framed photo of Mocha and Kelly the German shepherd stretched out side by side, taken on the very day of the bunny's rescue, sweetly graces the main entry of Summeril's home.

When asked what is most special about helping the rabbits, she reflects, "I feel like they need me…they have my heart."

Those interested in rabbit adoption or volunteering with Alameda Point Bunny Rescue should contact Robin Summeril at 510.522.3074, or e-mail apbrescue@aol.com. Donations of any the following would be greatly appreciated: Gift cards for Petco or Lucky's, contributions to veterinary care at VCA Animal Hospital in Oakland, used refrigerator to store the rabbits' fruit and vegetables.

© Tania Fardella, all rights reserved.

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