Roving rabbits temporarily turn dog park into warren

Published 9:06 am Friday, September 22, 2023

This past week, Legacy Grove Park was the temporary home of Winchester’s newest celebrities.

A warren of juvenile rabbits closed Legacy Grover’s small dog park but captured the community’s collective heart along the way.

The initial post on the Legacy Grove Facebook page last Friday regarding the rabbit’s discovery and the dog park’s closure garnered 154 likes and 56 shares, with most of the posts praising the park’s staff for how they handled the situation.

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The executive director of Legacy Greenscapes, the nonprofit that runs the park, gave the Sun the backstory about the rabbits and provided an update on their whereabouts during a recent phone interview.

“We were alerted by a dog park patron,” said Deborah Jackson. “What I think happened was that one of them was found in the dog park yard, and so the patron started looking for the others.”

The patron eventually found the other two juvenile rabbits – better known as kits – under a pile of logs.

Jackson said that park staff hypothesized that the rabbits’ mother made a nest in the hideaway.

The location of the logs, however, was an unusual choice by the mother rabbit, considering their well-honed instincts as a prey animal.

“It is smack in the middle of the dog park,” Jackson said. “She had to cross through a dog park to get there. It makes me laugh every time I think about it because we have 30 acres and only two acres are dog park. She picked the two most treacherous – for a rabbit – acres and set up home base there…She liked to live on the dangerous side, I guess.”

Once alerted, Jackson put up a sign informing the public of the rabbits’ presence in the small dog park.

Luckily, the park has two enclosures for its four-legged guests, so they were able to enjoy the facilities while the temporary tenants were dealt with.

With the area safely secured, park staff quickly learned about the long-eared interlopers.

“They were larger rabbits, and we never did see signs of the mother,” Jackson said. “They were probably already on their own. The rabbits were not babies. They had full hair.”

Through research, park staff estimated that the rabbits were around three to four weeks old and that the mother was unlikely to return.

“What we learned is that at that time, baby rabbits start to move out on their own. The cool thing about rabbits is that kits will not stay with their mother, but they will stay with each other,” Jackson said.

So began a waiting game to see when the rabbits would move on.

Jackson said that last weekend, there were numerous reports of the kits exploring the area by the dog park and then returning to their log sanctuary.

By the early portion of this week, the rabbits had hopped on down the bunny trail.

“That was the best outcome possible,” Jackson said. “We did not want to surprise our dog park patrons. We did not want their dog coming up on the bunnies.”

Since then, the log area has been cleaned up to ensure the kits or their mother do not return.

Jackson said that park staff appreciates all the kind words bestowed upon them by the community, adding that keeping the rabbits safe is part of the park’s overall mission.

“That is part of our thing here, too, is the environment and sustainability includes nature and all the things within nature. It is very important to use to foster care and kindness for everyone, including a tiny group of kits.”