A wild rabbit, orphaned as a baby, got a second chance at life when she was taken in by a caring woman. Months later, she reentered the wild but has since shown up again in her rescuer's backyard, proving that she is thriving.
Jessica Lee, 25, of Marietta, Georgia, found a baby cottontail rabbit, Honey, crawling around on pine straw in her backyard on June 28, 2020.
"I put some gloves on and cradled her in my hand, and she rubbed her head against my fingers," Jessica told The Epoch Times. "Eastern cottontails are born blind and deaf, so she probably thought I was her mom."
Miami native Jessica spent 10 minutes searching her yard and researching online on what to do upon finding a baby cottontail rabbit, before finding a rabbits' nest and two additional baby bunnies, sleeping.
She placed the rabbit that was in her hands back into the nest and thought that would be the end of it. However, the following morning, all the three babies were still there, alone, looking worse than the night before. At that time, Jessica figured the mother had never returned to feed them.
The public health professional made an "X" over the nest with paper, and sprinkled flour on the ground to see if the area would be disturbed overnight. The following morning the paper and flour seemed untouched, but the baby bunnies were missing.
"I became frantic," said Jessica. "I began searching around the perimeter and I found them on the grassy area of my backyard. All three bunnies managed to crawl out of the nest, meaning they were hungry and unfed. I decided then that the mother rabbit had abandoned them, and I took them in."
The baby rabbit she had held in her gloved hands two days before was now frail and emaciated, said Jessica. She contacted a wildlife rehab expert, but they were located too far away and were not accepting new wild rabbits at that time, so Jessica began researching how to care for baby cottontails herself.
She started with a much-needed meal, buying kitten milk formula, mixing it with goat milk, and feeding each baby through a dropper every three to four hours.
"It was a lengthy process because I had to be very gentle and slow to avoid aspiration," Jessica explained. "After feeding, I warmed a cotton ball with warm water and stroked each bunny's bottom to stimulate them so they could urinate and defecate."
This was needed to promote gut flow.
Jessica then learned that, sadly, only 10 percent of orphaned rabbits survive longer than a week.
"I was only able to save one," she said. "I named her Honey."
When Honey opened her eyes, Jessica introduced hay, leafy greens, pellets, blueberries, and oats into her diet, weaning her off the milk formula. She took the 2-week-old rabbit outside every day to expose her to nature and watched her gain strength and confidence, eating grass and running around the yard.
Although the process was extensive, Jessica said it was rewarding.
As the baby rabbit recovered, the bond with her rescuer intensified.
"I would wake up every day and shower her with love and affection," Jessica said. "She was like a little pet, and I became very protective ... I believe she identified me with scent and knew I was the one who saved her. She was skittish around other family members, but not me."
Honey, who occupied Jessica's screened-in patio, would feed from Jessica's hand and hop into her lap. Picking her up was "almost impossible," but Honey liked being held and enjoyed exploring.
"I would allow her to come in and run around the house," Jessica recalled. "She would run around the living room, dodging the furniture as if she were in an obstacle course. It was really cute."
Jessica also made it a point to sit in her patio each day and spend time with Honey—who enjoyed blueberries and Quaker oats—petting her and bonding with her.
When Honey turned 2 months old, she started pawing at the screen door to the yard. Jessica decided the time was right to start her gradual release.
On her first solo outing, Honey stayed 5 feet from the open door and then made her way inside the porch.
The next day, Jessica placed her in the middle of the yard in a small animal crate, and Honey looked around and then jumped and rapidly started bouncing away toward Jessica's house. She crouched beneath a bush to watch the world go by.
"As days passed, I could see she became more confident in herself, and more comfortable being outside in her natural habitat," said Jessica. "I would still keep her in my patio at night, but during the daytime, I let her out so she could become more accustomed and feed on the grass."
Jessica built Honey an outdoor rabbit hutch to keep her safe from predators, such as hawks and snakes. When Honey grew to be 9 months old, she enjoyed the outdoors more.
On March 31, 2021, Honey was spotted nudging her head against the screen part of the door and pawing at it. She even used her body to push the door. As Jessica let her out, she went far away from the house. Jessica knew at this time that Honey no longer wanted to be held in captivity and that she had to let her go, despite it being an emotional day for her.
But Jessica didn't have to wait long for Honey's reappearance. Around dusk on the very same day, Honey showed up in the yard.
"I called her name but she kept her distance," Jessica recalled. "I saw her a week after, then a month after; I would approach her but she would stay super still, and each time I got really close she would run away."
At the time of writing, Honey is 2 years old. Jessica describes her as "silly, playful, but timid," and hopes to see her "prancing around" her backyard this summer season.
To others who would find themselves in a similar situation trying to rescue a rabbit, Jessica implores: "Only take in orphaned rabbits if you truly believe they are orphaned. The mother rabbit only returns at dusk and dawn to feed her babies, so the best thing to do is to place the babies back in their nest and wait."
As for Honey, Jessica feels grateful to have been able to save a life.