Caleb Smith has been a “bunny guy” ever since he was eight years old. That’s when he rescued his first rabbit, Snickers, off Craigslist, and realized bunnies, like many pets, aren’t always treated as well as they should be.
“The people selling Snickers had cats and a dog, but they only wanted to keep the cats. They were done with the others,” Smith, who is now 16, recalled in his new book, Peacebunny Island. “The way he used the word done struck me as gruff, and I felt bad for the animals that were stuck there unwanted.”
But to Caleb, Snickers wasn’t just the perfect pet – the older rabbit taught the boy about the importance of kindness, empathy, presence, and — when Snickers died the following year — the heartbreaking fact that some people put their pets on Craigslist to avoid paying for end-of-life care.
The loss of an animal is devastating for any pet owner and Caleb – who’d never experienced death before – was crushed by his rabbit’s passing. But through the experience, he also came to realize that animals, in particular rabbits, have quite a lot to teach people. “I’m not saying bunnies are smarter than people,” Smith writes in his book. “It’s just that emotionally they seem to be better at certain things, like listening and being patient.”
In time, Caleb started adopting rabbits again, both to help rescues, preserve rare rabbit breeds, and — by bringing his rabbits to classrooms, Sunday schools, and birthday parties around Minnesota — introducing these amazing floppy-eared critters to people.
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But it wasn’t until Caleb accompanied his parents to Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012 to comfort survivors of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting that the boy realized his rabbits–much like the therapy dogs comforting students around town–could also help people process their grief. “Something about them clicked,” Smith writes, recalling the moment he realized his growing rabbit collection, aka The Peacebunnies, could help other kids.
Peacebunny Island is an inspiring tale about how a boy’s strong bond with rabbits paved the way for a 22-acre island sanctuary where Smith trains rescued and rare-breed rabbits to become comfort bunnies. In addition to bringing these therapy pets to comfort people in nursing homes, hospices, juvenile detention centers, funerals, and other crisis situations, this enterprising teen runs a rabbit foster program encompassing nearly 500 families, including many with kids on the autism spectrum.
As Easter looms, this heartwarming tale is also a tribute to the holiday’s signature rabbits, which are waiting in local shelters and rescues for someone to adopt them. Bunnies might not be adopted as often cats and dogs, but Caleb’s journey proves rabbits can make excellent pets if just given a chance. In addition to being an inspiring true story, Peacebunny Island might just make a “bunny guy” or gal out of you, too.
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