Janet Russ, vice president of the San Fernando Valley Rabbit Breeders, and her fellow fanciers will be on call today, 2 p.m. to midnight, at the Sylmar Armory in San Fernando for their annual show of what they call "The Animals of the '90s."
Always a versatile little critter, the rabbit is fast gaining a rep as an ideal pet, especially for dwellers of condos and other cramped quarters, and even for those for whom a pet is an occasion to show off.
The pet syndrome is relatively new, Russ concedes. So are rabbit shows, in which they're judged on conformation, fur, color, even weight. "Then, of course, they're bred for a number of other purposes: meat, fur, medical research (she shudders), skin grafts. . . ." Skin grafts? "Oh yes," Russ says. "In World War II, when there was a shortage of human flesh and pigs proved unsatisfactory--too quickly rejected, too coarse--they crossed a New Zealand White for size, a Himalaya for texture, a Florida White for durability and came up with the 'California rabbit.' It saved a lot of lives."
In a more halcyon era, however, rabbits are bred both as pets and for show--"a lot cheaper than show horses," Russ says, "or even dogs or cats, though you can spend $5,000 on one. There's an upstate man named Lovejoy who's paid quite well for doing nothing but breeding matching sets of Harlequins for Japan's royal family."
Most startling to the tyro, perhaps, is the variety of bunnies shown at the Valley and other shows: Rhinelanders, Champagne d'Argents, Jersey Wooleys, Netherlands Dwarfs, Flemish Giants. . . . "They can run from a breed that weighs 1 1/2 pounds max to as big as 40 pounds and up," says Russ, and each breed is judged on its own particular qualities.
"Hotots are beautiful--about 4 pounds, snow white and brown, blue or black rings around their eyes; they look as if they're wearing mascara. The French Lops that I raise have long, floppy ears and squinched-in little noses. My guy walks on a leash. Hey, he weighs more than 20 pounds and wants to tag along wherever I go, and I can't carry him."
As pets, rabbits are said to be ideal. Emotionally disturbed children relate to them, the elderly establish instant rapport and apartment dwellers find their wards not only tidy (easily litter-box trained) but little bundles of bliss.
Feeding (fruits and vegetables) is little problem, though rabbits are not crazy about the heat. "I keep three of mine in a garage annex with a fan in it," Russ says. "I take cool towels out to them, and once in a while I freeze water in plastic bags. They kind of lie across them on their tummies. A lot of work for a rabbit? When they're worth a couple of hundred bucks you'll go to a little trouble."
Besides, they've got it all over dogs: "They'll fetch a ball, hassle your cat, romp with you, shred your newspaper, all those good puppy-dog things, but they'll never bark or disturb the neighbors. And think of the other advantages:
"My husband's boss has a Red Rex he keeps in his office. Just before the last quake, he was sound asleep. The rabbit, not the boss. Suddenly, he jumped straight into the air and scrambled under the couch. A few minutes later, the quake hit. The boss also uses it as a litmus for prospective clients, judging them by whether the rabbit likes the person, wants to play. He says in business matters, the rabbit's never wrong." Call it the Rabbit Test.
Admission to the show is free, but finding the Sylmar Armory is a little tricky. From Interstate 210, take Maclay offramp and go south to Foothill Boulevard. Turn left; proceed to Arroyo Street. Turn left; go under freeway just past Tree Farm to Armory Alley and turn right, to the end of the alley. No phone, but Russ' number is (818) 760-0720.