Sunday 30 October 2016

From Start To Finish

Did I ever tell you the story of how this blog came about? Oh right, I sort of did. Well...forget about that. Let me tell you again.

I arrived at the RRR back in February of 2008. I was looking for a pair of bunnies to adopt but, knowing nothing about rabbits, I wanted to volunteer for a few weekends to make sure bunnies were for me. Well, of course, they were. My only previous experience of volunteering was the odd Xmas party for senior citizens or bits and pieces for schools when I was younger. I was completely new to animal rescue volunteering but after just one afternoon I was hooked. For the first time in my life since I had left the teaching profession, my life felt like it had a deeper meaning.

Harrison, brother of Whisky

I had an image in my head of what I expected bunnies to be from a few photos I'd seen of cute bunnies on websites and was not expecting the vast variety of breeds I encountered at the Rescue. Having only experienced cats and dogs in my own family it also took me a while to understand their personalities. The first bunnies I met at the RRR that I fell for were a pair of brothers that resembled the image I had in my head - Whisky and Harrison. They were not together as a pair though as they had been separated ready to find wives and I was a few months off building my outdoor rabbit accommodation anyway so I didn't consider them a realistic option regardless.

Santa and Jemima at the RRR

Eventually I did adopt a wonderful pair:- Santa and Jemima. Neither red-eyed-whites nor Rexes had appealed to me initially, but once I'd got to know them I wasn't so worried about their breed, it was all about their personality. They quickly became the most important part of my life and I loved them dearly. To me they were like children, so much so that my girlfriend of the time told me later that this was one of the reasons she left me - the fatherly love I showed them dwarfed any emotion I had ever shown towards her. Plus, she was continually frustrated at my repeatedly cancelling any plans we had at the slightest sniff that one of them might be unwell.

My enthusiasm for my bunnies was evident to anyone who ever asked about them. Like any excited parent, I could talk about them for hours. They made me laugh every day with their silly antics and I would enjoy just watching them go about their rabbity business. The trouble was, outside of the Rescue, few people I knew were interested in rabbits, so my stories of Santa and Jemima's adventures would be bottled up and explode out of me in long tales rambled at Caroline on a Saturday. Whilst she was happy to hear about them, I think it was probably a bit much and didn't help productivity on those days, so perhaps that's why she encouraged me to start a blog about it. We decided it would be good to have a mix of my own rabbits stories and those of the bunnies at the Rescue and so "Big Ears, Tiny Tales" was born.

Did you ever wonder why our URL was always bunniestotherescue when the blog is called Big Ears, Tiny Tales? When I was setting it up I had come up with three possible titles. As well as the one we ended up with, I floated "Bunnies To The Rescue" and "Chompin' At The Savoy" (a reference to an old jazz tune). There was no real preference expressed by the others in the team, so in the end I picked bunniestotherescue for the simple reason that I thought it was easier to pick out the words from the URL. I created the blog that way, but after a while the name "Big Ears, Tiny Tales" grew on me so much that I decided that was definitely the one. I guess I could have changed it to bigearstinytales, I probably should have, but it just didn't look right so I left it. And there you have it - soon it was linked from our website and referenced all over so it was too late.

Sushi in my garden, 2012. Why? No reason. Except otherwise you'd be looking at too many paragraphs of text right about now, so...

In the early days, there were three blogs featuring rabbits that I read regularly. The first was the My House Rabbit blog. It was sort of a mix of what the rabbits in the author's family got up to with some hints and tips, care advice and general rabbit-related world news. Then there was Cute Overload, a general animal blog of cute photos with captions and short articles, it was a great site which both chronicled the evolution of cuteness on the web and directed it. Finally was the supreme king of all bunny blogs, Disapproving Rabbits. This was a simple "one photo with caption" daily blog, but the captions were so tremendously well written, often with references to literature and culture, it was regularly laugh-out-loud hilarious. This was the blog landscape I tried to fit Big Ears, Tiny Tales into (OK, I'm gonna call it BETT from this point on), but while it took some inspiration from those other blogs it remained very much its own thing - a (sometimes humorous) chronicle of the goings on at a UK rabbit rescue as well as my personal experiences of living with rabbits at home.

From the start, I had intended for the blog to be a group effort. Whilst I was to take the lead and likely be the most regular contributor, I set it up for a number of the volunteers, including Caroline, to be able to post. Whilst they were as enthusiastic as I was about having the blog, they rarely found time to write anything for it. Apart from a few times when I took breaks for work trips or when one of my fluffy family passed away and I couldn't bring myself to write about the joy of rabbits, the rest of the team pretty much left me to it.

Colin, former volunteer and MD of the charity. (Only managed to write one post on the blog, but could always find time to share an apple with his favourite trio.)

The biggest change to BETT began in April 2012. I had been reading up on how to improve the blog and one of the most important pieces of advice that I found was that the blog should have regularly scheduled posts - if you want people to keep coming back, they need to know when to expect new tales. Around this time a number of other exciting rabbit blogs had emerged: Speedy the House Rabbit, The Zen of Bun, Two Bunny Blog, A Houseful of Rabbits. They were all great blogs, but Disapproving Rabbits was still ahead of them in two very important ways: Firstly it was daily - DR readers were returning every morning to see the latest disapproving face and read the hilariously fitting caption over their morning coffee/commute. Secondly, because it was driven by reader photo submissions, it had an infinite variety of stars. This was something the other blogs, generally based on the handful of rabbits in peoples own families, couldn't match. It occurred to me that here, with RRR being possibly the single biggest rabbit rescue in the UK and with a constant turnover of residents, we had something bloggable that no one else could match. As well as a large cast of long-term characters, we had a rolling line of new and interesting faces with their own stories to tell. So that was it - I decided to give it a go and on 20th April 2012 BETT became a daily blog.

I figured I would run BETT daily for a while and see how it went. The first month was exciting as I started to learn new skills of listening to what our residents had to say and interpreting them for the blog. The photo part came easy, I was already taking sometimes over a hundred photos in a week trying to get good shots for the website and other things. The harder parts to it seemed to be rearranging the funny things the residents said to end on a punchline (bunnies don't always deliver their gags in human-friendly form) and editing down the words into the shortest possible way of reaching that punchline. Again, there was often a not-surprising amount of fluff and build-up the way they told it. Sometimes it even needed a complete re-write to deliver their hilarity in a way that made sense in a few frames and lines - lots of Googling literary references, quotes and the like. In fact, another surprisingly difficult thing was coming up with a title for each post.

To make things harder on myself, I even set some rules to follow for the titles:

  • Never repeat a title
  • They should always favour puns (to match the style of the blog's title)
  • Where possible, the post title should be a pun on, or reference to, the title of a movie, song, book etc.

It's the sort of thing that starts out OK but just keeps getting harder as time goes on. You'll see this gradually being abandoned (to a degree) over time if you look back through the old posts, though I hope we never repeated a title. But perhaps if you hadn't realised about the movie/song thing you can have fun trying to spot them all! As time went on, we also had song lyrics, movie stars names etc.

Whisky in the garden, 2012

One thing that did make the blog much easier to maintain was that, by the time it became daily, Whisky had moved into my house and become properly part of my family. Living with a house bunny with as much energy and character as Whisky had, I could never run out of tales to tell. Sure, he had a lot of medical things going on for the whole of his life to talk about, but mostly he was just a bunny who enjoyed himself and provided unlimited entertainment for anyone who witnessed it. He could have had his own daily blog and filled it if he'd wanted to, but his Sunday posts seemed a good balance of sharing his life and letting him get on with it. He naturally has more posts currently than any other bunny on this blog, as a result of those weekly updates, and I've been told was considered the heart of it by many of our readers. When Whisky died last December, I had to consider if I could continue BETT without him. Fundamentally though, this blog is for the bunnies of the RRR to communicate their thoughts to the world and thankfully Pandoren stepped in to keep it going.

Pandoren was the Animal Care Assistant employed to run the day-to-day workings of the RRR, as well as having been a weekend volunteer for some time, she was the natural choice and she seemed to enjoy it. Having myself dropped down to just two days a month regular volunteering, I was hoping to hand it over to her completely at that point, but it didn't work out. Maintaining a daily blog is quite a commitment for someone who regularly works long days like the ACA does, so with no one else on the team able to spare the time to contribute I filled the days on the blog she couldn't cover. When Caroline left the Rescue to pursue a different life for herself, Pandoren stepped up to become manager so she had even less time, though she continued to post when she could, but it meant again I took responsibility for the daily posting. Things changed again at the Rescue over the summer, with Caroline back and her family heavily involved in the daily running of the site, Pandoren felt it impractical for her to continue in the management post and gave notice. While she enjoyed a final blast of posts during her last weeks, again it fell to me to continue BETT on her departure.

Mars, October 2016

One thing I must say about the blog, which has jumped into my head quite randomly as I am writing here, is that it is highly valued by all the volunteers at the Rescue. Mainly because we have terrible memories and without it we'd struggle to remember who all Mars' husbuns were.

With all the changes and improvements this year, there is now a new and very capable team running RRR, headed by Caroline and a few very dedicated volunteers and ACAs. It seems to me that, if ever there was going to be one, now is the right time for me to move on. You probably guessed that was coming from the length of this post, right?! It's not that I am breaking all ties with the Rescue (I can't - Sprat still sends me messages demanding treats - he really does!), but for now I am off the regular volunteer rota and my previous responsibilities for the Rescue are covered by others in the new team. It has been a long and educational ride being a big part of RRR and running BETT and, despite all the drama, challenges and tragedies, a mostly enjoyable one.

I have one last post lined up for tomorrow before I depart, but besides that this is a 'goodbye' from me. At least for now. I hope you have enjoyed my posts here on BETT, I have certainly enjoyed and appreciated your comments and support over the years. I wish you all the best for the future and leave you (starting Tuesday) in the capable hands of one of the most dedicated volunteers I have met at RRR...but I will let her introduce herself!

Love and peace (and bunnies, always bunnies), BHV.

Oh, and if you start to miss me, don't forget you can always pop over to my other blog and leave me a comment!


  1. Will miss your photos and comments BHV. I don't comment much but read BETT faithfully.

  2. Sorry I didn't do my own sign-off post guys... I started it but simply never got round to finishing it and then time moved on...

  3. So sad to read you are leaving the blog, I have loved reading your posts as they often made me laugh and at times on the sad posts I have cried. You will be missed greatly on the blog and at the rescue. I hope you will come back again soon. Jayne