SF designer creates plush bunnies to support rabbit rescue group

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday June 26, 2024
Share this Post:
Tria Connell sits with her lionhead rabbits, Wafer, Nilla, and Krinkle, all available for adoption, and the stuffed rabbits she makes as a fundraiser for SaveABunny. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Tria Connell sits with her lionhead rabbits, Wafer, Nilla, and Krinkle, all available for adoption, and the stuffed rabbits she makes as a fundraiser for SaveABunny. Photo: Rick Gerharter

Tria Connell shares her apartment bordering San Francisco's Western Addition and Hayes Valley neighborhoods with two adopted rabbits. Each was rescued and has unique personalities.

Her black bunny with a white nose she named Oscar the Bunny Grouch.

"He is grouchy," noted Connell, 53, a lesbian who is a fashion designer and teaches a beginning sewing course at the Academy of Art University.

Her white bunny with black spots she calls Naira Hare, who comes from a breed that has genetic bald spots. Thus, their ears or the bottoms of their feet are furless.

"It is due to breeding. I am extremely anti-breeding," Connell told the Bay Area Reporter.

She has also been fostering three female lionhead bunnies, named after the wool mane encircling their head, since September. One with white fur is named Nilla, while the two brown-furred ones are called Wafer and Crinkle; they are all ready to be adopted.

They had been rescued from a hoarding situation in Petaluma, where 30 rabbits had been left in cages when a breeder was evicted from the property.

"For rabbits, unfortunately, they are extremely easy to breed. You can get a ton," noted Connell, a Midwest transplant who has called San Francisco home since 1995 and was crowned the winner of the 1997 Faux Queen drag pageant. "The average litter is four to six and can go up to eight bunnies. As soon as a bunny gives birth, she can get pregnant within 24 hours. The gestation period of a rabbit is about one month."

All of the rabbits under her care came from Mill Valley-based rabbit rescue SaveABunny. To help raise funds for the nonprofit, Connell has been putting to work her sewing skills and design sensibilities, having over the years created outfits for various local drag performers.

Last year, she began stitching together plush bunnies featuring different fabric patterns. Ones standing 15 inches tall cost $75, while bunnies a little taller than 9 inches are priced at $25.

Connell makes a $15 donation for the bigger bunnies and $5 for the smaller ones to SaveABunny in the name of the person who orders them. To date, she has sold more than 30.

"I hope it to be a long-term thing. I love making them," said Connell, who usually can produce the huggable hares within two weeks of receiving an order.

Spunk Salon, located at 4147 19th Street in the city's LGBTQ Castro district, has for purchase several of Connell's Pride-themed lagomorphic creations displayed in its windows. There is also a panel with the Venmo code for people to scan and order a handmade bunny if they want one in a certain fabric design.

People can also visit Connell's page on the site Depop to purchase one of the plush bunnies posted for sale or contact her to order one.

Plush bunnies made by Tria Connell to benefit SaveABunny. Photo: Courtesy Tria Connell  

Fabric sitting around
Most she makes out of upcycled or fabric scraps she has saved over the years.

"I have so much fabric just sitting around from 20 years of drag and just other random commissions," she said, "and vintage fabrics I have collected over the years."

The plush bunny fundraiser has been a unique way to draw people's focus to the plight of those rabbits taken in by shelters or that end up with a rescue group like SaveABunny.

"There isn't a lot of attention on rabbits because rabbits still don't have the same protections as those of cats and dogs," said Marcy Berman, the nonprofit's executive director and founder.

She told the B.A.R. Connell "is amazing," "creative," and "just a perfect representative for a rabbit lover."

Berman said she loves how "very organic" and unfancy her plush bunny fundraiser concept is.

"It is creating a little piece of artwork, basically," said Berman, who has yet to order her own plush bunny. "That's what I think of with bunnies. They are really so amazing, so beautiful, little works of nature that are in your home."

Berman's nonprofit is where Jeannette Farrell, 49, who owns the Mill Valley hair salon Ealain Gruiage, which means "hair art" in Irish, adopted her four rabbits — Fred Noobun, Amelia Earbun, Elvis Bunsley, and Yeardley Bunny — years ago after a client told her about SaveABunny.

"I just think, with any animals, adopt don't shop," said Farrell, who lives in American Canyon.

She follows Connell on social media and saw her post about the plush bunnies. A straight ally, Farrell ordered one in the colors of the transgender Pride flag in honor of a family member who is trans.

"At some point I will gift it to" them, said Farrell, adding she wants "to get a plush bunny for all four of my nieces and nephews."

Along with her rabbits, Farrell and her boyfriend care for two parrots, a turtle, and three chickens. The four rabbits are litter box trained, though the one named Elvis is blind and has a hard time finding it, and each has its own big personality, she said.

"I just love them. They are all funny," said Farrell.

Nonetheless, they aren't for everybody, noted Farrell, leading some rabbit adopters to change their minds and release them into nature, incorrectly thinking they will thrive outdoors.

"People will put them out in the wild thinking they will do OK. But they will end up either dead or in rescues," said Farrell. "The lucky ones end up in rescues. They don't do well in the world."

Rescuing rabbits for 20-plus years
In 1999, Berman launched SaveABunny as part of another group and turned it into its own nonprofit in 2005, though she didn't begin drawing a salary until 2016. According to its most recent tax filings in 2022, the agency brought in revenues of $479,146, with Berman's total compensation being $52,000.

"We really need to double what we are raising," said Berman, 63, who would like to have a vet tech on staff and bring on a new executive director so she can transition to being more of a board member and fundraiser. "I would also like to travel. I have been doing this since I was in my 40s. This is the longest ever I have worked at a job."

Larger animal adoption nonprofits often don't take in rabbits, noted Berman, leaving it to government-run animal shelters to care for them and adopt them out. As of June 21, San Francisco Animal Care and Control had 11 rabbits listed for adoption on its website, (https://www.sfanimalcare.org/adoptable-animals/smalls/) while Oakland Animal Services had nearly 20, with several bonded pairs or throuples, listed on its website.

"They end up at city or municipal shelters because they are mandated to take in rabbits and anything else," said Berman.

SaveABunny works with roughly 40 shelters around Northern California that house rabbits and, to date, the nonprofit has rescued more than 5,000 rabbits. A main focus for SaveABunny is caring for those rabbits suffering from trauma, abuse, or neglect, said Berman.

"We do have our share of cute, adoptable rabbits. It is not like all are injured or anything," she said. "We do prefer to help the ones people might initially walk by and not want to take."

What most people don't realize is even rabbits who have suffered can make great pets, stressed Berman.

"They have such an amazing resiliency and amazing grace about them," she said. "The ones who have had the hardest luck and hardest time often are the most sweetest and most grateful. It is pretty amazing to see."

Via its website and social media presence, SaveABunny has attracted followers from across the globe. Berman, who had a career in corporate advertising and marketing in New York before moving to the Golden State, posts videos, photos, and updates about her furry herd.

"I never expected these rabbits to be connecting people all over the world. It is what I really enjoy the most," she said. "Rabbits are very sentient, conscious beings but really misunderstood."

Many people have written to say the rabbits have helped them deal with their own trauma or depression, said Berman.

"Seeing this little tiny being in such a fullness of life, they enjoy their lives so much," she said. "They overcome what seems to be impossible. That really helps people feel hopeful, especially during dark times."

Rabbits are curious creatures who are at once loving and mischievous, noted Berman. When spayed or neutered, they calm down somewhat like cats and dogs, she added, but can still be naughty at times and provide a ton of laughs.

"I think they bring out a part of people that is very innocent and very young, back before all of us lost our childlike wonder," said Berman, who usually has 10 rabbits she personally cares for at home.

Berman operates the nonprofit near Mill Valley, where she lives in an unincorporated part of Marin County. She bought her 2,500 square foot home in 2003 and set aside 1,500 square feet for the rabbits SaveABunny cares for and puts up for adoption.

"If anyone wants to buy us a building, we would be thrilled," said Berman.

When the B.A.R. spoke with Berman in May, she had 50 rabbits in the care of the nonprofit and its team of people who foster the animals until they can be placed in forever homes. More volunteers were being recruited, as she was trying to take upward of 15 rabbits from a Bay Area shelter that was in need of adopting out a total of 91 in its facility.

"They won't call it the euthanasia list. They will say they have to make tough decisions soon," explained Berman when asked if the rabbits would be put down if they couldn't be rescued.

A June 13 post on its Facebook page announced the arrival of nine new rabbits and included a plea for help from individuals who could foster them this summer with the link to fill out an application.

"SaveABunny is rescuing as many bunnies as possible from completely full county shelters and we're bursting at the seams. We could really use help from people willing to foster a bunny for a couple weeks this summer, all supplies provided," noted the nonprofit.

They make for the best city companions, contended Berman.

"They don't need to be outside, and they shouldn't be," she told the B.A.R. "You don't have to walk them in the middle of the night. They are quiet, clean, and funny. They are really good urban pets."

For more information about SaveABunny and the rabbits it has for adoption, visit its website.

Never miss a story! Keep up to date on the latest news, arts, politics, entertainment, and nightlife.
Sign up for the Bay Area Reporter's free weekday email newsletter. You'll receive our newsletters and special offers from our community partners.

Support California's largest LGBTQ newsroom. Your one-time, monthly, or annual contribution advocates for LGBTQ communities. Amplify a trusted voice providing news, information, and cultural coverage to all members of our community, regardless of their ability to pay -- Donate today!