During a fateful hike in 2013, in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains, Elise Oliphant Vukosav and her husband came across an injured bunny that would change their lives. They, in turn, would forever change the bunny’s life as well.
The couple found the bunny huddled under a bush, unable to move her legs. “We knew she wasn't a wild bunny, so we gently picked her up and brought her back to a retreat center where we worked and fed her kale and water,” Vukosav recalls. “She was so hungry and thirsty, so we took that as a good sign she wanted to keep living.”
When they were unable to find an animal rescue that wouldn’t have to put the bunny down because of her spinal injury, Vukosav and her husband decided to adopt and care for the rabbit, who they named ChiChi. “We are so glad we did,” Vukosav says. “She’s been one of the biggest blessings of our life.”
While they don’t know what caused ChiChi’s spinal fracture, Vukosav points out that bunnies are very fragile and these sort of injuries are not uncommon.
ChiChi’s spinal injury causes her body to be out of alignment. “Her front legs have a tendency to want to splay,” Vukosav explains. To navigate these issues, they started ChiChi on physical therapy (including water, massage, and cold laser therapies) and got her a cart so she could get around with ease.
Now a little over 4 years old, ChiChi goes to therapy at the Animal Acupuncture and Rehabilitation Center in San Diego a few times a month, while Vukosav helps her at home with scarf therapy, mobility exercises, and massages.
“The various forms of therapy we've tried have helped her gain more strength in her front legs, and more mobility in her hind legs,” she says. “I think it's also provided enrichment for her and made her even more confident than she already was. Exercise is important for people, and for animals as well, so I think she really enjoys being able to be active.”
Of course, in addition to her physical activities, ChiChi has plenty of other things to keep her happy and motivated. As one of three rabbits cared for by the Vukosavs, ChiChi is bonded closely with her bunny brother, Mr. Magoo. “They are inseperable and he dotes on her, grooms her, snuggles her, and she reciprocates,” Vukosav says.
It’s hard not to fall in love with ChiChi, who Vukosav describes as “alert, attentive, loving, spunky, and very trusting.” She’s a brave and optimistic animal who is happy-go-lucky, no matter the circumstances, Vukosav adds.
It’s that very spirit that has forever changed Vukosav’s life and her perspective on animals and humans alike.
Caring for ChiChi has not only taught Vukosav how to care for a disabled rabbit, but also that “there's no such thing as normal, and every bunny—every animal—is beautiful, even if they don't maneuver in a usual fashion.”
“Most importantly,” she says, “ChiChi has taught me to be patient, kind, optimistic, to never lose hope, and to always take a chance on what might seem like the impossible.”