A Wiltshire grandmother who decorates her bunnies’ home for Christmas, with wrapped gifts and a tree, said she received the animals on the advice of her GP to help her cope with the passing of her 30-year-old son three years ago. .
Sharon Hawker-Baddeley – the self-proclaimed ‘rabbit version of the cat freak’ – had Pippin and Poppy after her son, Richard, died just after his 30th birthday and Sharon hit a low point with her sanity.
Sharon decided to have two bunnies, who are now followed by thousands on Instagram, because bunnies can get depressed when they are bored and one of their wellness needs is an in-species companion .
The 58-year-old, booking manager for canal boat holidays, feels like she has no dependents, so she goes the extra mile with her pet bunnies, especially over the Christmas holidays.
Sharon is divorced and lives alone, so her rabbits give her company after she gets home from work.
Sharon decorates Pippin and Poppy’s 60-foot enclosure with Santa’s sleigh, an elf on the shelf, a Christmas tree full of food and presents. The enclosure even has bunk beds for the rabbits all year round.
She’s had the pair of two-year-old bunnies since they were eight weeks old, saying: ‘My son died three years ago and I had a mental health crash, a really bad one.
“When I spoke to my GP about it, they suggested I get a pet.
“I didn’t want a dog or a cat because I work full time, so I thought of a rabbit.”
Richard passed away on June 12, 2019, just after his 30th birthday.
Sharon said: “He was sick for quite a long time before he died of heart problems. He was sick for many years, inside and outside the hospital, etc.
“He’s had some pretty major heart operations.”
She added: “He had endocarditis and a splenectomy which meant his immune system was really compromised.
“He had an infection in October 2018, which went to the heart and became endocarditis, and he had a major valve replaced.
“He seemed to recover, then six months later he had another heart infection, so another valve was replaced.”
She added: “But he died a few weeks after his release.
“My other children have theirs [children]and I almost felt like I had no one to take care of.
Sharon has a daughter, Chloe, 28, who has a son, Michael, who is about to celebrate his first birthday, and another son, William, 32, with an 8-year-old daughter, Lacey.
She said: “It’s very difficult to be unhappy with such adorable creatures. They are really excited and happy to see me.
“Pippin is the boss, he’s really full of himself and he likes to establish that.
“If I bend down to brush Poppy, he’ll jump on my back to remind me he wants attention.”
She added: “Poppy is a bit more shy, she’s fine with Pippin in charge.
“If I feel a little sad, I go there to see my rabbits. Their antics make me laugh out loud every day and everyone needs them.
Sharon shared how she decorates the rabbit enclosure for Christmas time as a bit of fun, which she posts on her rabbit Instagram page.
She said: “I put Christmas decorations in their little house and do elves on the shelf with them.
“I put elves in their jar of dried food with another elf trying to climb while they tried to eat, like you would a child to play.
“Rather than cookies, most of them are things I make or buy myself.”
She added: “We have a wooden Christmas tree which I fill with apple leaves, things like that, I prefer to feed them naturally.
“I would never think of dressing them up, it’s very stressful for rabbits and can be dangerous for their fragile skeletons.”
Sharon shared how her friends and family react when she decorates her pets’ enclosure for Christmas.
She said: “It’s a bit sad but I find it funny. I think people think I’m the bunny version of crazy cat.
“To be honest, most people find it secretly strange – a neighbor was bathing their little girl when I came home from work and they could hear me in the garden.
“I go to the shed and say, ‘Hello darlings, did you have a good day? Are you hungry?’ and she was telling me how cute she thought it was but her face was like “oh my word”.
She added: “But I think if something makes you happy and it doesn’t hurt anyone else, it doesn’t matter what other people think.”
Shortly after picking up the bunnies, Sharon set up an Instagram page for them, which now has just under 10,000 followers.
She said: “At first it was just because I thought they were so cute and it was fun to watch other animals.”
She added: “But I also learned a lot – there is a lot of misinformation about what rabbits eat.
“A lot of the pet stores you go to will tell you that cheap stuff will do.
“Hutches were meant for rabbits in Victorian times, but they didn’t want them moving around – they wanted to fatten them up.”
She added: ‘I’ve had my shed converted and that’s where they sleep and play and then I have a tunnel to an outdoor fox proof track so they can get some air costs.
“I live in a fairly small cottage and it would be impossible to give them that much space indoors, so they have 60 square feet in the garden.”
Sharon said anyone who has lost a loved one should consider getting a pet.
She explained, “They really made a difference for me, they really did.
“I would strongly recommend anyone in a similar situation consider adopting a pet, it doesn’t have to be a rabbit – some people might prefer a cat or a dog.
“As long as the person can provide what the animal needs, I would recommend it.
“It really helps to have something to bond with.”