Bunny Festival And Pignic Continues To Be A Success

In 1998, Bunnies Urgently Needing Shelter held its first Bunny Festival And Pignic, and the fundraising event continues to bring fun and education each year.

Have you ever seen bunnies bowling, running an obstacle course or munching down in an eating contest? Those were only a few of the activities at the 15th annual Bunny Festival and Pignic organized by Bunnies Urgently Needing Shelter (B.U.N.S.) in Santa Barbara. The festival took place on September 23, 2012, at the Sunken Garden of the Santa Barbara courthouse.

“People look forward to the Bunny Festival,” said Jean Silva, founder of B.U.N.S. She said there are lots of events for dogs, but not many for rabbits and even less for guinea pigs. Silva said it’s a family event, and they have a children’s area where they offer activities like face painting, cookie decorating, games, feeding rabbits and feeding guinea pigs.

“We have a lot of fun, but it’s a tremendous amount of work,” Silva said. She estimates that 400 to 600 people attend the event. Most are from Santa Barbara and nearby counties, but there are always people from out of state. “It is crowded at times; it goes from noon until 4 p.m. so there are times when it’s more or less crowded.” For a sample of the fun, check out the Parry Gripp video and song that immortalizes a past Bunny Festival.

The event is a fundraiser for B.U.N.S., and Silva spent most of her time working at the spa. She thinks that about 200 rabbits and guinea pigs attended the event with their owners, and nearly 100 of those visited the spa. A lot happens at the spa. Spa services include nail trimming, light grooming, ear toner, well-bunny or well-guinea pig checks by two veterinarians or a session with an animal communicator. People can choose to buy a spa package or just choose services individually.

Laura Stinchfield , the animal communicator, joined the festival in 1999 or 2000, just a year or two after the first festival in 1998. Silva said people comment to her all the time that they can’t believe how accurate Stinchfield is about their pet.

The rabbit and guinea pigs games are a crowd favorite. Andrea Bratt, a volunteer at B.U.N.S. and a rabbit and dog trainer, runs the games. She said that more than 20 rabbits and guinea pigs participated this year. Oliver, a Rhinelander mix, was really good at all the games. “If we had a triathlon, he would have won,” Bratt said. He did well at eating, bowling and the obstacle course. Another rabbit that excelled was Lulu, a Mini Lop that went blind recently. “She was really good at bowling,” Bratt said.

What is bunny bowling? Bratt handmade carrot-shaped bowling pins that are about 8 inches tall, and these are placed upright on a board and then the rabbit is placed on it. The rabbit that “chins” the most pins and knocks them over wins.

“I try to design games that tap the rabbit’s natural curiosity and behaviors so they don’t need any training to play,” Bratt said. She thought about what rabbits like to do, hop around and explore, so she made a freeform obstacle course; rabbits like to eat, hence the eating contest (she usually uses either carrot, strawberry, banana or parsley; banana seems to be the best); Bowling taps into rabbits’ natural curiosity. “When the pins fall over, everyone cheers,” she said, adding that all games seem to be equally popular.

If attending rabbits or guinea pigs need a break, their owners can take them to the Lagomorph Lounge. Silva said this is a beautiful grassy area where pens are set up under shade structures. Each rabbit gets a private pen and can munch on salad purchased at the event. Volunteers watch over the lounge so people don’t mistake it for a petting zoo. Silva said the service is free. It allows owners to go watch events or shop while their pet rests, a four-hour event can be tiring. Silva said they don’t want the rabbits to get overheated.

Owners who might need a snack or drink visited the Carrot Café for popcorn, snow cones, beverages and other fun food and drink.

Vendors attend every Bunny Festival and Pignic, so there’s lots of shopping to do. With products for rabbits and owners, shoppers have a lot to choose from, although Silva said there’s always room for more vendors. This year’s vendors included the Bunny Bunch, San Luis Obispo B.U.N.S, Coleen Lyon, a Chinese brush painter, Heidi and Andrea Bratt and more. Products ranged from animal jewelry to rabbit care products to training equipment to T-shirts, art, etc. Someone was even there to demonstrate spinning angora rabbit fur.

The photo booth is another must-do at the Bunny Festival and Pignic. Silva said some people come to get their holiday card photo for the year. They pay for a setup and the photos. Nick Burlett snapped photos of adorable pets, with styling done by Jessie and Alana and further help from three more volunteers. Silva said that Jessie collects props and backgrounds to use, with additions by others. This year the Halloween background was new.

Amid all the fun, adoption inquiries and fundraising are going on. Most of the animals at the event are brought by owners who want their photo taken, nails trimmed or whatever, but a few are adoptable. B.U.N.S. had 10 rabbits at the event. One group of five was out for a two-hour shift, and then the second group was brought out. Blue Sky Rescue, which rescues lab rabbits, also had some large, white rabbits there for adoption. Silva said B.U.N.S. had seven adoption inquiries and Blue Sky had some inquiries for adoption and fostering.

Although there’s no entrance fee to the Bunny Festival and Pignic, Silva said funds are raised through vendor fees, tickets sold in the children’s area, spa services, selling the Bunny Festival T-shirt, the silent auction and donations. This year, donated items for the silent auction took up 18 tables. Leith Petwerks, local Santa Barbara businesses and many others all contributed items to the silent auction.

The fundraising helps support B.U.N.S., which is a no-kill rescue operating out of the Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter. It currently has 60 animals in its care, 40 rabbits and 20 guinea pigs. Silva said that on average it adopts out about 200 animals every year since it opened in 1992, with more in recent years. It’s operated solely by volunteers with no paid staff. It’s a successful fundraiser that Silva said is also a lot of fun.

The date for the 2013 event isn’t scheduled yet. Silva said it moves around a little depending on the availability of the Sunken Garden and when the San Diego Bunny Festival is scheduled (they coordinate to be on different days). The Bunny Festival And Pignic is usually either the last or fourth Sunday in September. Check the B.U.N.S. website for updates or email B.U.N.S. to get added to its newsletter list.

Has Silva learned anything about running a fundraiser after doing the Bunny Festival And Pignic for so many years? “The best thing I learned about events was from another volunteer group,” she said. “The more items you have donated, the more you’ll make.” For example, a crew from the Santa Barbara boys camp helps with set up and take down, the Sunken Garden is donated by Santa Barbara County and tables were loaned in the past so they didn’t have to rent them. “Keep expenses down,” Silva said, “the more freebies, the more money you’re going to make.”

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