"If we're struggling to survive as a small organization, let's become the biggest," Patino remembers thinking. GLRS agreed to take 200 of the bunnies-but 500 were sent. Today, about 500 rabbits are running free on its five-acre site south of Ypsilanti, making GLRS what Patino wanted it to be: the largest rabbit sanctuary in the country.
Patino, who is also general manager of Quarter Bistro and operations manager for the Original Cottage Inn, hoped that increased size would lure donors, sponsors, and grant money. Initially, it did just that. With help from the Utah group, grants from the PETCO Foundation and other agencies, and a mailing list of 4,000, the sanctuary's operating budget swelled from $73,000 to $300,000.
But since Michigan's devastating economic crash, GLRS has been beset by trouble on all sides. Rabbits are the third-most popular house pets after cats and dogs. Home foreclosures have forced people to surrender bunnies, so rescues have increased. Although the PETCO Foundation has a program to help subsidize surrendered pets, it has financial troubles of its own and can't provide the same level of support it has in the past. At the same time, prices for food, medicine, and bedding have escalated-leaving the sanctuary facing a $100,000 deficit.
Despite the shortfall, GLRS continues to hold work projects with students and the public and hosts regular tours. Meanwhile, it is sending out more fund-raising appeals, crafting new promotional campaigns, and taking donations online (www.rabbitsanctuary.org).