Bunny Utrecht II of Honolulu has it all: build, class, a firm bottom, close-standing ears, a winning look and a weight of only two pounds.
But bunny lovers in Orange County who raise such breeds as the Netherlands Dwarf, which had all those qualifications to win the recent American Rabbit Breeders Assn. national competition in Florida, are now waiting for their chance.
They're preparing for the all-breed show at Hart Park in Orange on April 28, one of the many contests leading to next year's national competition.
An estimated 1,600 rabbits representing as many as 100 different breeds will be entered in the competition sponsored by the Golden West Rabbit Breeders Club of Orange. The show will include a separate contest for rabbit breeders 18 and younger.
Shows Spur Interest
"Every time there's a big national contest," said Sunny Harper of Orange, secretary of the 60-member club, "we just get that many more people excited."
And her husband, Forrest, a leading breeder in Orange County and a licensed rabbit show judge, said, "It's no surprise to us to see such heavy competition. The association has 39,000 registered members nationwide, and that's grown from 10,000 in just five years."
The reasons include an increasing interest in developing new rabbit strains, said Glen Carr, executive secretary of the national association in Bloomington, Ill. Another is the growing popularity of rabbits as pets, partly because of the rise in condominium and apartment living.
"Rabbits are very clean, can be housebroken to a litter box, don't require shots and don't make any noise," Carr said. "Besides that, they're downright cuddly and can be leash-trained."
And Southern Californians looking for new outlets "seem to have developed a trend to acquire pets other than cats and dogs," said Richard Holden, spokesman for the Southern California Veterinary Medical Assn. "Right now, rabbits and birds are the big attractions."
Newport Beach animal behaviorist Sue Miles said she has used rabbits for years in her work with elderly people and physically or mentally handicapped children.
"Rabbits can be trained as lap animals and can be as social as dogs," she said. "Their appearance of softness can have a strong calming effect."
In competitions, Forrest Harper said, popular breeds include the Netherland Dwarf, the English Woolie and the French, English and Holland Lop, which come in a variety of colors and sizes.
Costs Can Be High
The popular mini-lop, which can cost $500, weighs about four pounds, while breeds such as the New Zealand Whites and the Florida Whites weigh as much as 18 pounds. The lop breed characteristics include ears that hang like those on a bassett hound.
And much like judging in American Kennel Club championships, "We look for class within each breed and go so far as cupping the rear quarters to see if they feel round and solid just like a bowling ball," noted Harper, who judges more than 60 shows a year.
And winning bunnies don't last long, Harper said. "Once they get past a couple of years old, the younger bunnies take over--just like in a human contest," he said, noting that rabbits only have a five-year life span.
The animals are somewhat fragile, said Golden West Club president Mavis Phifer of Villa Park, "which means they have to have care just like any pet. Around Easter time we go around to pet shops to pass out information on the care of rabbits."