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Draper Journal

Abandoned rabbits, guinea pigs find a safe haven run by 14-year-old

Jun 13, 2019 04:01PM ● By Linnea Lundgren

Isabella Eskelson holds Carmello, one of the rabbits at her MAR Animal Rescue. (Linnea Lundgren/City Journals)

By Linnea Lundgren | [email protected]

Lucky the rabbit arrived at the MAR Animal Rescue fighting for her life. She had difficulty breathing and her infected eyes were sealed shut with yellow pus. Isabella Eskelson, the 14-year-old owner of the rescue, immediately put her extensive knowledge of small animal care into action. 

“She was the severest out of all the rabbits,” referring to the 30-plus rabbits she rescued from a hoarding bust in Vernal. “She had a long-term respiratory infection, her fur was gone and her skin was scabbed from mite bites.” As she does with every animal who arrives at her no-kill rabbit and rodent rescue, Isabella uses all measures available to her to ensure Lucky has every chance to survive, thrive and find a permanent home. 

The Sandy teenager, who will attend Corner Canyon High School as a freshman, does it all on her own — from the handling of daily care to vetting adoption applicants to fundraising. 

Every day, she’s up at 7 a.m. to attend to her charges — currently 13 rabbits and three guinea pigs (including one who is pregnant) with feeding and administering medications. After school, she dons gloves and a face mask (she is allergic to hay) to clean cages, apply fresh bedding and monitor the animals’ weight. Then, she gives them love and socialization time. 

“A lot of them are special needs, so every 12 hours I administer their medicine. Others, I have to make critical care for because they can’t eat properly,” she said. 

She’s run MAR Animal Rescue since 2017, after finding neglected rabbits at a local petting zoo. But helping those in need started long before then. As a child, Isabella was influenced by her family’s focus on service to others, which has included gathering donations for Family Promise and donating Christmas trees to addiction recovery centers. 

Even before her rabbit rescue at age 9, she assisted animals, notably bettas — colorful, ray-finned freshwater fish housed in plastic cups at the pet store. The manager gave her the ailing bettas for free and she nursed them back to health. All found forever homes thanks to Isabella’s knack for connecting fish lovers with fish on social media. 

“We saved a lot of fish,” she said. 

Rabbits have always fascinated Isabella, who did extensive research into their care before embarking on her endeavor.

“I feel for them,” she said. “They aren’t recognized a lot in rescue groups, especially in Utah, which is a farm state and people think they can just put them outside and they’ll be okay.” That’s incorrect, she said. Domestic rabbits, like any indoor house pet, need love, attention and proper housing. As with cats, they can be litterbox trained. 

“With love, care and effort, a rabbit will form a bond with you,” she said.  

MAR is one of only three rabbit rescues in Utah. Rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas arrive after someone finds them, usually abandoned, always neglected. Springtime brings an influx of rabbits, most of which are cast off after Easter. Isabella’s advice to anyone wanting a bunny for their child’s Easter gift: “Get a stuffed (toy) animal instead.” 

Whatever money she gets from babysitting, birthdays or holidays goes toward the rescue. 

Medical care takes up the majority of donated funds, as well as her time, which sometimes requires Isabella to check out of school for urgent vet visits. Wasatch Exotic Pet Care in Cottonwood Heights has been “very flexible,” she says, in providing care for her animals and offering reduced sterilization fees for the rabbits and their offspring involved in the hoarding bust.

“I feel that Isabella is doing an amazing job,” said Laurel Harris, doctor of veterinary medicine at Wasatch Exotic Pet Care. “She is mature beyond her years and her ambition and level of commitment to these animals are commendable. This is not just ‘playing with the bunnies’ to her. It is clear that she provides excellent care, which is a lot of work, every day. She's a pretty amazing young woman with a bright future ahead of her.”

That future includes obtaining 501(c)(3) status for MAR Animal Rescue and finding a larger facility to care for more rabbits. 

Luckily for Lucky, her eyes and skin have healed since coming into Isabella’s care a year ago, although she still suffers from respiratory difficulties. Nonetheless, Isabella is hopeful Lucky will find foster care and, later, a permanent home.  

“We work hard to find rabbits a forever home, including for the special needs ones,” she said. “Some rabbits stay longer here, but it doesn’t matter how long they stay. They’ll have safe care with us.” 

To surrender, foster, adopt or donate, visit MAR Animal Rescue on Facebook or call/text (801) 717-0173. Donations are also taken through Venmo, Paypal, GoFundMe and on Amazon Wishlist. All donations go toward food, supplies and medical care.