HeARTs Speak member Nancy Furstinger is the author of nearly 100 books. Her latest, The Forgotten Rabbit, due out in 2014, is based on Marshmallow, a giant New Zealand rabbit.
How did you become involved in animal rescue and rabbit rescue?
I've been rescuing animals for years, but became involved in rabbit rescue after discovering a warren of domestic rabbits who were struggling to survive in my old neighborhood in the Catskill Mountains. I humanely trapped, spayed/neutered, and rehomed. Then, after moving, I found a seemingly endless supply of domestic rabbits on the lam—people had either become bored with their kids' former pets or they mistakenly thought that pet rabbits could adapt to living in the wild.
I have several house rabbits who were former strays (one, about to be dumped at age 11, lived to the amazing age of 15!). Word spread and two local humane societies contacted me to help them with four rabbit hoarder cases (I rehomed dozens of rabbits, including into my own home). A wildlife organization also alerted me about the New Zealand white rabbits who were going up for auction when the old Catskill Game Farm was closing (I won all 28 rabbits and again spayed/neutered and rehomed).
Why not buy a rabbit for a child for Easter?
Rabbits are neither cuddly nor low maintenance. They are very fragile and, as prey creatures, don't enjoy being held or carried. Consider giving a child a stuffed or chocolate rabbit instead of a real one. If you live in a quiet household with older, gentle children, and you’ve all done your homework, you’ll discover that rabbits make wonderful indoor companions. However, the parent has to take responsibility as the primary caregiver for any pet.
There's a fantastic article detailing why Easter and rabbits don't mix at the House Rabbit Society, a great international organization where I volunteer: http://rabbit.org/easter-and-rabbits-do-not-mix/
Why is it so easy for people to justify purchasing a rabbit and then abandoning him or her?
Many people think rabbits are easy starter pets, which can't be further from the truth. They purchase the rabbit in a pet store or from a breeder for a cheap rate and then refuse to spend money for an exotics vet to spay/neuter or treat the rabbit when he or she becomes ill. They also aren't prepared when the rabbit reaches the “teenage stage” in a matter of months and has a surge of hormones that bring on unwanted behavior, which is easily resolved by spaying/neutering.
In our disposable society, it's easier to abandon the rabbit than take him/her to a shelter. Others cruelly imprison rabbits outside in hutches with little human contact. Indoor rabbits can live into their teens, while those housed outside in hutches usually don’t survive to celebrate their first birthday. Outdoor rabbits are more prisoner than pet. They endure extremes in weather, attacks from predators, loneliness, and stress. Why have a pet of any kind if you don't invite him or her inside to become a member of your family?
Tell us about your upcoming book!
Yes, very exciting! The Gryphon Press, who published Maggie's Second Chance: A Gentle Dog's Rescue (based on my dog Jolly who was abandoned in a house after the people were evicted—in the period before massive foreclosures), has a list that focuses on dogs, cats, birds, and horses, but no rabbits (who are the third most popular pet). I wrote a manuscript based on my huge New Zealand white bunny, Marshmallow, who lived the first three years of her life in a tiny outdoor hutch, and who has now transformed into a house rabbit. My publisher suggested incorporating a story line about rabbit agility (a sport similar to dog agility) to appeal to the picture book crowd. The Forgotten Rabbit has a Spring 2014 pub date—I can't wait!
Many of your books focus on children readers. Why is it important to involve children in thinking about animals and rescue?
We'll be passing the reins to the next generation and it's never too early to get kids involved in treating animals humanely. I meet many young readers during book festivals and school visitations, and they bubble over with excitement. They always have a marvelous selection of questions to ask about animals.
What inspired you to focus on writing about animals?
As I explain to kids, my teacher always told me to write about what you love. I love all kinds of animals—wild and tame—and I love books, so I combined the two and became an author of animal books. I like to tell people that I've been speaking up for animals since I learned to talk, and I haven't shut up yet!
Do you have any advice for writers who’d like to break into the publishing world with stories about animals/rescues?
Read, read, read! Bring home stacks of books from the library and bookstore on animal topics to see what is being published. And join a professional organization (I recommend the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators if you're targeting a young audience) to make connections and get feedback and advice. And then revise, revise, revise! You can't believe how much work it is to write a 500-word book. It's like writing poetry: every word has to count so you end up cutting nearly as much as you write.
Nancy Furstinger is the author of nearly 100 books, including many on her favorite topic: animals! She started her writing career in third grade, when her class performed a play she wrote while recovering from chicken pox. Since then, Nancy has been a feature writer for a daily newspaper, a managing editor of trade and consumer magazines, and an editor at two children’s book publishing houses. She shares her home with 2 dogs and 7 house rabbits (all rescued), volunteers and fosters pets for several animal organizations, and is a member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
Maggie’s Second Chance: In a compelling story, movingly illustrated, the issue of animal abandonment is brought to life. Maggie, a pregnant lab mix, is left behind in an abandoned house. Discovered by the realtor, Maggie is brought to the pound where her puppies are born.
Maggie’s Second Chance is based on the true story of Texas fourth-graders who, with their teacher’s assistance, founded an animal shelter in their town. The final page offers factual comprehensive information on how to help abandoned dogs.
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