“My mother hadn't played pinball in a long time, so she played a round at one of those New Year street arcades. She cracked the marble into a particular slot and won a rabbit,” he says. “The owner said, you won it, so you've got to take it.”
“My mother only wanted the pinball feel. Not the prize.”
Owla, then 29 years old, reluctantly agreed to take the unwanted gift off her hands.
“But I didn't know if I wanted to keep it. How long it would live, I didn't know. How big it would get, I didn't know. It started going through a growth spurt, which is when a rabbit looks its absolute worst. I thought, if I released it in the mountains, nobody would ever know,” he says.
“I did get over feeling like that.”
Tang Tang (糖糖) is now full grown. At 4.6 kg, she is a real dumpling. Owla leaves Tang Tang uncaged so she can go from room to room as she pleases. She greets him when he comes in the door, then darts off to avoid being petted.
She is a princess, says Owla. “She rules my house.”
Tang Tang also got the ball rolling on TRSA, Taiwan's standard-bearing rabbit welfare group.
It all began with a blog, which Owla activated to post photos and news of his latest household addition.
Soon, Tang Tang's blog had become a hub for rabbit owners with stories and advice to share. Netizens increasingly flocked to the site, and Owla moved their hangouts offline.
“The very first events included five to six owners, which then became tens of people. And then we had to book entire restaurants, for hundreds of people.”
Events included field trips to strawberry fields, where bunnies nibbled low-hanging fruit while owners mingled. They would discuss the best brands of feed, overseas products, health concerns — things like that, says Owla.
Then we started looking around and wishing we could find rabbit information in bookstores, or that more pet-shop owners knew how to care for rabbits, he continues.
“We thought, we've got the strength in numbers, why don't we do something about it ... That's why we formed the society.”
Owla, whose day job is professional event planning, sinks his free time into developing TRSA programs. He throws regular socials for rabbit enthusiasts, such as the carnival-like “Olympic Rabbit” (兔林匹克運動會).
He also coordinates emergency rescue, adoption programs, spaying and neutering, and school demonstrations.
TRSA's long-term goal is to rehabilitate society's ideas of what a rabbit should be, he says.
The average rabbit is not cuddly, prefers not to be held, and gets to be quite large as an adult.
“Rabbits are abandoned when they don't fit the expected picture. Abandoned pet rabbits rarely do well in the wild.” said Owla.
He continues, “Many people also believe that rabbits eat only carrots and never drink water. It's a misconception that kills.”
A safe rabbit diet is grass hay as the primary meal, with a restricted amount of fresh vegetables and pellets on the side. Carrots are high in sugar and can cause fatal gastric distress, especially in younger rabbits.
To date, TRSA has just one full-time staff member. Everybody else — Owla included — is a volunteer.
Yet you would hardly know it from TRSA's polished website, its smooth-running adoption fairs, or the tidy look of its brick-and-mortar office in Taipei's Beitou District. That's a credit to the expertise and commitment of TRSA's volunteer force.
It's also thanks to a public that Owla considers basically good.
Since its founding in 2009, TRSA has been bankrolled almost entirely by small donations, he says.
Owla continues: So far, red-eyed rabbits, old rabbits, paralyzed rabbits, blind rabbits, and rabbits with other health complications have all been able to find good homes with good owners.
TRSA receives countless cases of animal abuse, some involving children who get their hands on an abandoned rabbit. Says Owla, the heart of the problem isn't evil, but miseducation.
“Kids are very curious about the animal. They don't know how to treat it.”
Says Owla, that's what TRSA is for — and there is a little improvement every year.
Great improvement is possible, he adds. “We have a lot of faith in the public.”
The Dream Catcher series is published every Monday.
Photo 2 of 10
|A house-rabbit assesses an obstacle during an event at the 2012 "Olympic Rabbit" event (兔林匹克運動會) held Saturday, Jan. 28 in Taipei.
(Enru Lin, The China Post)