WSU Extension 4-H Youth Development Program

4-H News Around the State

Tri-City 4-H Rabbit Club Participates
in National Convention

By Paula Horton, Tri-City Herald staff writer

KENNEWICK -- Rabbits and guinea pigs are hard not to like. They're soft. Some are super fluffy. They're fun to play with. And, of course, they're cute.

That's exactly why 13-year-old Miranda Menard begged her mother for a rabbit more than three years ago. "I wanted a rabbit really bad," said the Chief Joe Middle School seventh-grader. "But my mom said the only way I could get one is if I joined 4-H and took 100 percent of the responsibility for it." Miranda joined the Rada Rabbits & Cavies 4-H Youth Club and got Lace, a small Netherland dwarf rabbit.

"When I first started (in the 4-H club) it was intimidating," the Richland teen said. "But now I have 10 rabbits and seven guinea pigs -- a couple are due soon." Miranda quickly learned what club member and classmate Hannah Mowry had known for years. Raising rabbits and cavies -- the proper name of guinea pigs -- was "really cool" and addictive.

Hannah, 12, got her first cavy and rabbit on her fifth birthday. She now has about 20 rabbits -- she raises tans, velveteen lops and Netherland dwarfs -- and about 30 cavies. Both girls say they like cavies better than rabbits because of their personalities, but they admit raising either animal requires a lot of work and dedication.

In fact, all 42 Tri-City-area youths in the Rada Rabbits & Cavies 4-H Youth Club likely will say they raise the animals because it's fun. But they're actually doing much more than just learning about how to care for the small creatures.

"As a leader, I always keep in mind that the rabbit hobby is really fun, but my bigger picture is it's not about the rabbits," said Aggie Mowry, Hannah's mother and club leader. "What I want these kids to learn is life skills -- how to be responsible people when they grow up. Raising rabbits and cavies is the vehicle." Responsibility is the most basic skill because kids have to be responsible for animals that depend on them for daily food and water and keeping their cages clean weekly, she said. When kids show their animals at fairs and other competitions, they're judged on a variety of things, including how well groomed the animals are and whether they're within the proper weight requirements for their particular breed.

"It sounds kind of cheesy, but you learn a lot of life skills," Hannah said. "One of the major things I've learned is speaking in public because every year you have to give presentations. And we do a lot of community service projects and learn the importance for volunteering." The 4-H club members can easily rattle off a list of skills they've learned by being involved in the club: Integrity, show ethics, honesty, confidence, time management and money management. "They learn decision-making skills and about caring for each other," Mowry said. "We've had kids with limitations in the club, we had one member in a wheelchair, so they had to learn what her limitations were and what that was like and how to help her."

Competition is a big part of what they do -- six members recently returned from a national event in Kentucky -- so they also have to learn about sportsmanship and how to lose graciously. "Especially the times you really fall on your face -- you have to just let it roll off," Hannah said. Miranda added, "It's a bummer when you lose, but it's also a good thing because it makes you try harder the next time."

At the 85th annual American Rabbit Breeders Association National Convention in Louisville, Ky., the six club members put all their skills to work as they displayed their rabbits and cavies and competed for individual honors. The animals were judged for best of breed and best in show. The youths then participated in the "royalty" contest where they were graded on how they judge animals and breed identification -- there are 47 rabbit breeds in 90 different colors and 13 breeds of cavies. They also completed a general knowledge written test and were interviewed by the judges. To enter the contest, they had to complete an application that included essay questions.

"It's like a job application, but for rabbits, and you have to try to impress them," Miranda said. Miranda won best of breed for Brady, a silkie satin cavy -- a breed that has long hair and looks like a mop. Hannah won two best of breeds for her American cavy, Jessy, and her Abyssinian satin, Mr. Peanut. She also won Reserve in Show with Jessy, which essentially means Jessy was the second best of the 300 cavies in the show. Hannah, the 2008 ARBA princess (the category for girls 9 to 11), was the second runner-up this year for Duchess (the category for girls 12 to 14). Ashley Reithmayr, a 16-year-old Kennewick High student, was fourth runner-up for queen in the royalty competition. There were 47 candidates in her group, which is open to girls 15 to 18.

If caring for the animals and preparing for competition wasn't enough work, the club members have do it while keeping up their grades in school and participating in extra-curricular activities. The Rada Rabbits & Cavies 4-H Youth Club, the largest 4-H club in the Tri-Cities, -- and just named the Benton County 4-H Club of the Year -- also commits a lot of time to helping out in the community.

Club members talked to fifth-grade classes about rabbits at the Farm Forum at TRAC. They also take their rabbits to the Canyon Lakes Restorative Center for pet therapy each month, where they sit and talk to the residents about their life stories while the residents pet the rabbits. "It's like a living history," Hannah said. "It's really cool to be a part of it. You learn a lot and they learn a lot." They also put on showmanship clinics and invite the smaller clubs to help them learn, participate in elementary school science fairs at Jason Lee and Virgie Robinson elementary schools and play host to a regional seminar each year.

"The biggest misconception is that the kids are just learning how to care for a rabbit ... but when they actually join and participate in group events and community service projects, it's like 'Holy cow, I would have never known I would be doing this,' " Mowry said. "Raising rabbits and cavies becomes a very small part of what you end up doing."

Paula Horton: 509-582-1556;

WSU Extension 4-H Youth Development Program

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