In December 2014, my life changed forever. Little did I know that one fateful message was to completely alter my future and set me on a whole new path.
In November 2013, my Mum and I moved from Devon to Pembrokeshire, to fulfil a dream of purchasing a small holding. We'd thought we'd found our dream home, but on arrival our fairy tale ending became a nightmare. Between viewing, putting in an offer and arriving, the previous owners had trashed the place. We couldn't even get our cars in the courtyard due to the rubbish strewn across the entire area. There was literally rubbish everywhere and what we thought was just overgrown vegetation was actually hiding seven years worth of junk just left discarded.
A year on and we still had a lot of work to do, but slowly making progress. I was working part-time and slowly setting up my own dog training and behavioural business and planning to add grooming to the list when we'd sorted out the garage.
Through my dog training I'd become acquainted with Greenacres Animal Rescue in Haverfordwest. It was this connection that was to totally change my life. In mid December I received a message from the manager at Greenacres asking if I was able to visit a house in Newcastle Emlyn that had 50-60 rabbits needing help. Being local to the area I agreed to visit and assess the situation and report back to Mikey.
I made arrangements to visit and was utterly bowled over by what I found. A lovely father and daughter, desperately struggling and urgently in need of help. After speaking with them you couldn't help but feel for the situation they had found themselves in. This was not a hoarding case, all the rabbits were loved and cared for to the best of their ability. They knew that the situation was bad, they were desperate for help, they wanted to stop the breeding and get numbers back to a sensible and manageable level. They had been seeking help for 10 months, they hadn't sat around ignoring the problem, but there simply wasn't anywhere for them to turn. Finally they found Greenacres, which was 54 miles away from them. Greenacres was the first place that even listened to them, let alone offer to do something.
I promised the family that I'd help and I'd be in touch in a few days once I'd had a chance to make a plan. I called Mikey and the massive operation to find rescue placements for these rabbits began. I contacted RWAF and they put out a plea for rescues to get in touch and slowly but surely offers of help began to appear. The family were shocked when I called them back, they'd been ignored and let down so many times, they genuinely thought they'd never hear from me again.
At this stage I genuinely thought that my life would return to normal once we'd dealt with this situation. Before we'd even made a dent in the numbers at the house, there was a separate mixed sex group needing help. Thankfully only 4, but unsexed and living together it wasn't going to be long before 4 became a lot more! So they were added to the list.
After a long conversation with Mikey at Greenacres, it was obvious that West Wales was in desperate need of a dedicated and specialist rabbit and rodent rescue. It wasn't something I wanted to commit to, but if I didn't who would? These animals needed someone to step up for them and I had the space, experience and knowledge to provide them with what they so urgently needed. In the end, I simply couldn't live with myself knowing that I could have made a difference, but selfishly chose to ignore the problem. So in January 2015 Nibbles was born.
We literally started with nothing but a neglected patch of land. We managed to raise the funds needed to purchase 4 hutches and paving slabs. By this stage we'd removed over 120 rabbits from the house in Newcastle Emlyn and a number remained here at Nibbles. At first I really didn't think we'd be able to do it. They all needed neutering and vaccination and we literally had no money in the bank. It was not the best way to open a rescue! But somehow we managed.
Thankfully Lush Charity Pot believed in Nibbles and granted the rescue £5,000 to invest in our infrastructure. With this funding our rodent cabin was purchased and installed, water was brought up to the rescue area, a pathway was laid in front of housing, and further housing and cages were purchased. This grant required us to register as a charity and in August 2016 Nibbles was registered as a CIO.
During 2015, Nibbles was the only rescue able to offer help to 18 rex rabbits who were being given up by their breeder due to ill health. The only other offer was from a local man looking to train his young lurcher to hunt. Shockingly the breeder was considering this option, but felt it would be a 'waste of good breeding stock'. Obviously, we agreed to take all 18 and secured placements with other rescues outside of Wales to help with a number of them. I dread to think of what could have been, had Nibbles not been there!
By 2017 our original housing was starting to fall apart and we had huge trouble keeping the rabbits dry during the winter months. So a plan to raise the funds to replace all our housing was made. We also opened up a further area of land for the rescue to expand. Once again Nibbles became the only rescue in West Wales willing to step up for another group of rabbits. This time it was 22 rabbits, living in groups of between 2-6 in 4ft double hutches. All unneutered and fighting leading to serious injury. They needed out and they needed it immediately. Thankfully the wonderful Alice from Windwhistle Warren was able to help with 8 and the rest came to Nibbles.
By the end of 2018 we'd replaced all of our housing and added 5 rabbit pens in the top area. We had planned to finish our new builds during 2019, but this simply wasn't possible. Nibbles came so close to having to close due to a lack of funding, we literally had weeks before we ran out of funds to feed and bed the animals. At this point I really didn't see a future for the rescue, despite the desperate need for us to continue. It seemed that despite giving Nibbles everything, my best simply wasn't enough. We spent months with housing sitting empty, despite a long list of unwanted rabbits waiting to come into our care. Interest in adopting was non-existent and we were struggling just to meet our basic running costs. After fighting an uphill battle for the past 4 years, it seemed that Nibbles had come to the end of the road. I knew that Nibbles needed to exist, without it rabbits would suffer. I couldn't give up just because the going got even tougher.
In many ways 2020 has been our best year to date. Adoptions have increased dramatically, and for the first time every rabbit who arrived with us prior to 2020 has found their perfect forever home. We've even found homes for a number of rabbits who arrived with us this year. But it's also given a new set of challenges and difficulties. We've managed to build 2 further 6x10 rabbit pens and completely renovate our old mobile home as a result of Covid-19. But we have a way still to go before our infrastructure is fully complete. Again, our waiting list for available placements is long and we are simply unable to say yes due to a lack of space, insufficient funding and low volunteer recruitment. It's heart breaking to know that we are capable of doing more, but remain unable to do so.
I'm incredibly proud of what we've managed to achieve since 2015. At times it seemed impossible and I've shed many tears of frustration over the years. We have created an incredible rescue centre, with brilliant rabbit housing, able to comfortably cater for our residents while they wait to find their perfect forever homes. While our infrastructure remains incomplete, we still have a fully functioning centre able to make a huge difference to the rabbits and rodents who need our help. It would be utterly soul destroying to see it all come to an end and watch the centre be dismantled. More importantly, it would leave rabbits and rodents stranded once again. We’d be back to April 2014, where one family desperately sought help, while 2 rabbits multiplied to over 120 in the span of 10 months. Or 2015 when 18 rex rabbits did indeed end up as live bait for hunting dogs, not to mention the 22 rabbits in 2017 stuck in tiny hutches fighting. Nibbles needs to exist, the number of surrender requests we receive each month proves just how valuable Nibbles is, but if Nibbles is to continue a number of changes need to be made and we will need your support now more than ever.
I certainly won’t give up the fight to keep Nibbles open and running. It’s been an exhausting battle to date, and at times I’ve thought it would be easier to admit defeat and simply close the rescue. I tried my hardest to save these animals, but the support and funding simply wasn’t there. It sounds like a reasonable excuse to call it a day, sometimes I can almost convince myself it would be for the best. But, there’s always one more rabbit that arrives needing urgent help, that without Nibbles, may not have survived. I see them through the worst of times, watch as they recover and do their first binky and eventually see them off to their perfect forever home. I ask myself what their fate would have been if I had given up on Nibbles six months ago, or what will happen to the next rabbit if I gave up tomorrow. The truth is that Nibbles can’t continue without a significant increase in regular monthly donations, 2021 is really going to be our make or break year. Without increased financial support, everything we have built to date will be lost and there will be no other option but to close the rescue and dissolve the charity.