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Rabbit rescues at capacity as pets get dumped across St. Louis

Katie Kottmeyer founded Dolly’s Dream Home rescue about two years ago. Since then, they’ve rescued more than 400 bunnies.
Katie Kottmeyer
Katie Kottmeyer founded Dolly’s Dream Home rescue about two years ago. Since then, more than 400 bunnies have been rescued.

St. Louis residents are finding abandoned pet rabbits across the city, and few rescues have the space or resources to take them in.

“We have been getting about 60 surrender requests or more a week,” Katie Kottmeyer told St. Louis on the Air. Her nonprofit rescue, Dolly’s Dream Home, is currently at capacity. “We're out of pellets. We're almost out of carriers. And we just can't keep up.”

The reason so many rabbits are being dumped, Kottmeyer believes, is that people who thought they’d be an easy, low-key pet during quarantine or as an Easter gift quickly found themselves overwhelmed.

“When they get hormonal, they'll start growling and boxing you and spraying pee,” she said. “And that's just not what people expect when they see those cute, fluffy bunnies.”

Kottmeyer never planned to run a rabbit rescue. The 22-year-old has a demanding job as a data analyst with a Fortune 500 company. But when she saw that the area had more rabbits in need than spots at rescues, she couldn’t look away.

“Nobody was stepping up, and I was like, ‘I guess we can just do it,’” she said. “At first I was like, ‘Oh, it's just a little quarantine side project,’ but it's really grown, and I love it. I have four bunnies of my own, and I want to keep helping.”

When she’s not trapping dumped bunnies on the streets or looking for new foster homes, Kottmeyer works to educate people about the needs of domestic rabbits, including the fact that released domestic rabbits cannot live alongside cottontail rabbits in the wild.

“Your domestic bunny is not built to survive out there,” she said.

Kottmeyer also shared what people should know about these exotic pets before deciding to adopt or buy them.

“Bunnies are phenomenal pets, but they live eight to 12 years, so as much as a dog or a cat can,” she said. “They can be litter trained; they can do all these incredible things.” But they need a lot of space: “Living in a cage — it's like living in a bathroom. It's so small.”

Katie Kottmeyer joins St. Louis on the Air

Dolly’s Dream Home relies on several hundred volunteers and about 25 foster homes in the St. Louis region, with capacity to help approximately 70 rabbits at any one time. Kottmeyer hopes to grow the rescue in the future.

“We can always use more fosters [and] people on our rescue team to catch dumped bunnies,” she said. “It's great cardio!”

And if you see a rabbit in your neighborhood that looks a little different, Kottmeyer encourages you to send photos and videos to her organization before trapping them yourself.

“Because sometimes cottontails can have a melanin issue or they can be piebald,” she said. “Typically, you can tell [a wild rabbit] by their short stature — they have longer, thinner snouts. And when you see a domestic, European rabbit run and a cottontail run, it's just vastly different.”

Learn more about how to get involved, including becoming a foster or donating funds, at dollysdreamhome.org.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.