Marcy Berman with Mazel Tov and friend. (Photo/Steven Tan)
Marcy Berman with Mazel Tov and friend. (Photo/Steven Tan)

Q&A: She puts a hoppy face on many a sad bunny

Marcy Berman worked as a Fortune 500 marketing executive in New York City and brand manager for a natural products company until an abandoned rabbit changed her life.

The Mill Valley resident was walking her dog when she found the bunny. She caught it, brought it home, and began studying up on rabbits and their care.

“She changed my life in a lot of ways,” says the founder and executive director of SaveABunny.

The nonprofit — which specializes in taking bunnies that have been abused, neglected and traumatized — has been involved in rescuing 5,000 rabbits since 1999. It is funded mostly by donations and staffed by volunteers.

J.: What attributes would you ascribe to rabbits?

Marcy Berman: Rabbits have beautiful, expressive faces and communicate easily with people. They are funny, opinionated, spirited, quirky and soulful. Rabbits are easily as smart as a cat or dog. They learn their names, play with toys and, when spayed and neutered, they use a litter box just like a cat. With proper care, rabbits can live to be 10 to 15 years old.

So rabbits are good house pets?

Rabbits can be clicker trained, they will follow you around, they can sleep in bed with you, they do tricks, they can be litter-box trained. They bond with their humans for life, as well as with their rabbit companions.

A very cute brown bunny rabbit
(Photo/Steven Tan)

Tell us about your Late Bloomer Club of unadoptable bunnies.

It began 10 years ago with two rabbits: one blind and one with a permanent broken leg. Then some [bunny] orphans came in, and they took care of them as their own. As we started getting injured bunnies, old bunnies — ones that really can’t go anywhere — they were accepted into this group. This is an ongoing, loving little community of bunnies that help each other.

Where do your rescues come from?

Most come from the euthanasia lists at shelters, legal rescues from medical testing facilities and rescued meat rabbits. We work in partnership with Jameson Humane animal rescue in Napa and over 35 animal shelters. At any given time, we usually have a network of 120 to 150 rabbits that need a home. Rabbits are really the most exploited and underprotected domestic animal. But they are truly the most forgiving animal I have ever met.

You also do advocacy work, such as speaking out before Marin County supervisors lifted a ban on commercial animal slaughter, thus allowing farmers to kill up to 20,000 rabbits per year on their premises.

Marin County is one of the worst places in California for rabbits, despite having a high population of animal and rabbit rescue groups and shelters offering rabbits for adoption. Our elected officials have long supported a rabbit meat farm in Nicasio and have reversed protections previously given to rabbits.

Two baby bunnies, one black and white, the other brown and white
(Photo/Steven Tan)

Among SaveABunny’s volunteers are b’nai mitzvah students from local synagogues. What do they do?

The first thing we do is educate them about the domestic bunny and how they can help — both hands-on and in educating their friends, parents and teachers. Some stay involved until they go to college. But they have to work: This is not a petting zoo!

Does Judaism inform your work?

I was born and raised in an upper-middle class Conservative Jewish home. I am aware of and follow Jewish principles of tza’ar baalei chaim, literally, animal suffering. The basis of this prohibition is the belief that animals are a worthy object of ethical concern; they, too, have feelings and a capacity for enjoyment or pain. Also, the concept of tikkun olam is to make the world a better place than we found it. Rescuing and rehabilitating animals is life-giving. Raising and slaughtering bunnies and their babies  for “craft livestock” or fur items is cruel, unnecessary and profit driven.

Has the pandemic impacted SaveABunny?

Our adoptions and fosters dramatically increased. We screened people by Zoom calls and scheduled two people at a time to visit. They had to wear masks. Now it has slowed down. People are going back to work, [fostered bunnies] are coming back and people are dumping animals at shelters.

Liz Harris

Liz Harris is a J. contributor. She was J.'s culture editor from 2012-2018.