‘Deadly silence’ after illness home’s comfort bunnies claim


“The bunny traffic.”

This is what grieving residents and staff of Irene Homes – a home for people with intellectual disabilities – especially miss after an outbreak of deadly rabbit hemorrhagic disease recently claimed 275 of their beloved rabbits.

Hase has always formed a core part of the home, its rich history and the therapeutic environment that has been established for residents here over the past decades.

Alishia Steyn, manager of health care at the home, says the outbreak and deaths have left residents and even staff reeling under the loss.

The incident was extremely traumatic for the staff and 86 female residents who, from October 24, had to watch helplessly as the rabbits, some of which were still little bunnies, suffered and died one after the other: first 31 rabbits, then 48, then 37 .

This continued until the last four rabbits died on November 6.

Only two rabbits survived.

“Losing all our bunnies had a big emotional effect on everyone. There was always so much interaction between the ladies (residents) and the rabbits. It was even nice for us as staff to sometimes sit outside and just look at the rabbits.

“Our work can sometimes be emotionally charged, and then it helped a lot,” says Elize Breet, workshop and program manager.

“Irene Homes is 117 years old and situated on more than 6 ha of land. We have a very peaceful, therapeutic environment; there is a real rural feeling here, of which our rabbits are a big part. Now there is just such a dead silence.”

Steyn says she is also sitting with four little bunnies that she rescued earlier on the site after their mother rejected them. She took care of these bunnies, who are now three months old, at her home and had them vaccinated after the outbreak. She hopes to find new, loving homes for the domestic rabbits soon.

Toy bunnies comfort

To help comfort residents, staff have now started collecting soft toy bunnies and handing them to residents piece by piece. The initiative was launched by the charity shop on site.

“The shop suggested that donated toy bunnies be given to residents. It was great to see the smiles on their faces when we handed it to them. Every rabbit already has a name and the residents carry them everywhere,” says Steyn.

However, all the residents have not yet received a toy rabbit, as the home relies on donations for the precious treat.

“We would like to give everyone her own one.”

Financial blow

In addition to the sadness that the incident brought, the outbreak also has major financial implications for the home, as the premises must be quarantined for 90 days in terms of health regulations.

This means the home will not be able to hold its annual Christmas market or carol service; these are some of their biggest and most important fundraising initiatives.

The home will be part of the Christmas market at the Irene Link shopping center next month.

Anyone who wants to get involved with the home or make a donation can call Irene Homes on 012 667 1035 or visit their website.