Originally published on The Northsider (11 August 2015)
They may have just closed the door on their handmade accessories shop in Olinda, but rabbit-lovers David Johnson and Helen Hu are hoping to open up something even more original by the end of the year – Australia’s first bunny café.
As cat cafés continue to spring up around Melbourne and Sydney, the couple are looking to raise $20,000 to set up shop in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.
The “hutch café” will work closely with Victoria’s only no-kill bunny shelter, the Runaway Rabbit Orphanage, to help abandoned rabbits hop into the hearts of inner-city coffee-lovers.
“If we get it open, we’re thinking half will be a standard café and the other half will be a home for rabbits who’ve been abandoned,” Helen says.
“We’re going to make a little wonderland for them where they can live until they find a home and we’re hoping that people will watch them as they enjoy their coffee and learn more about them and maybe even take one home.”
It’s not a wholly unusual idea. After all, a glimpse of a stray rabbit in her mother’s garden was what led Helen and David to first become rabbit owners themselves just over a year ago.
“We named the rabbit Milk Candy because she’s white and when I was a little girl there was a type of milk-favoured sweet in China which I guess directly translated is called the Big White Rabbit,” Helen says.
“She just reminded me of that – sweet.”
The couple now own two rabbits – Milk Candy and her “boyfriend” the aptly named Trouble, who found his way into their lives via the Rabbit Runaway Orphanage.
“At the orphanage, they’re constantly getting rabbits in; one will be adopted, five more will come in,” Helen says.
“So people are buying them more as a toy for their children and then three months later when the rabbit becomes too high maintenance, it’s let go.”
Judi Inglis, who has been running the orphanage with her husband Bryce for almost six years now, says she’s excited to be part of the café’s campaign.
“David and Helen will be fostering a small number of our buns in a safe, secure and quiet environment away from general public interaction,” Judi says.
“We’ll be managing the animal welfare side of things to ensure that the buns are happy, healthy and not subjected to any undue stress which we find with other retail-type animal businesses.”
As a long-time animal rights campaigner from the UK, David insists the café will not be “a petting zoo.”
“It won’t be like many of the cat cafes you see because a lot of them don’t adopt out, they’re more places for people to go and spend time with cats,” he says.
“We want to educate people on how to care for rabbits as well as help them find homes.”
While the café campaign has attracted more than $11,000 in donations so far through the crowd-funding platform, Indiegogo, David and Helen say a lot more is still needed to give Melbourne’s lost rabbits a second home.
By Sherryn Groch