Alison Giese’s Photo Creations

Life is a series of occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, new babies, and the deaths of our beloved pets…And for every occasion there is a card to help you express your feelings. We’re lucky in San Diego to have Alison Giese in our midst. Alison is an experienced photographer who is also a bunny person and a longtime San Diego HRS volunteer. Alison started a company a few years ago creating greeting cards using photographs of her own bunnies (although often her dogs make appearances, too). Alison’s cards are sweet and funny and totally one of a kind. We sat down with her to learn about how she got into the greeting card business.

SDHRS: First take us back to your first bunny.

Alison with some of her star bunnies.

Alison: My family had companion rabbits before I was even born, and as I was growing up I’d hear fun stories about my older siblings’ bunnies, and always wanted one of my own. When I was a teenager I finally got my own first bunny, Apollonia. That was back in the 80′s before HRS existed! She passed away around the time I graduated from college. Then I moved out of my parents’ house and into my first apartment and got my first dog. I didn’t think I could have both a dog and a bunny, so I didn’t have any bunnies for quite awhile after that. Fast-forward many years… I learned of HRS, and that dogs and rabbits CAN live peacefully together, so I adopted my second bunny, and then my third… and that was the start of my rabbit habit! This time, thanks to HRS, I had the resources to give my new companion rabbits the best care, and I’m very happy to have bunnies in my life again. And I found my bunnies and my dog did indeed co-exist very happily together.

One of Alison's birthday greeting cards.

SDHRS: You’ve been involved with SDHRS for a long time. What sorts of activities are you involved in?

Alison: My first volunteer job through HRS was to update the San Diego shelter pages on the Cats and Rabbits and More website. I also served on the SDHRS Board of Directors for several years, and I regularly foster rabbits. But most of my volunteer work involves graphics and photography. I design and layout our newsletter, The Rabbit Reader, and I put together our information books, ads, flyers, signage, postcards, etc. I photograph events (http://sdhrs.shutterfly.com/) and foster bunnies for the HRS website and promotional materials, and provide photos and graphics for articles, t-shirts, etc. I also assist at education and fundraising events, and last summer I did a presentation for one of SDHRS’s Speaker Series called, “Playing Games with Your Bunny,” where I demonstrated clicker training with one of my talented bunnies, Domino.

SDHRS: So how did your develop your photography skills?

Alison: I took many photography classes in college and I even had my own darkroom. (Of course, this was back in the days of film cameras!) Over the years I have continued to take photography and Photoshop classes, always seeking to improve my skills.

Another birthday card staring Baxter and Scooter.

SDHRS: What inspired the idea of making your own cards? When was that?

Alison: When I adopted my first bunnies, B.B. and Buddy, I found them to be so adorable that I was often taking photos of them. I’d share my photos with friends and fellow volunteers, and several people said that my photos were so cute that I could sell them. So, I thought, “Why not?” I was having fun learning Photoshop at the time, so I created a line of greeting cards featuring photos of B.B. and Buddy. And of course, over the years, I adopted many more “stars,”, including Scooter, whom many have deemed “the World’s Cutest Bunny.” (He is extremely photogenic and a total ham!)

SDHRS: How do people get a hold of your cards?

Alison: I have a website  (http://www.alisongiese.com) where people can order my cards, and they are available at the SDHRS Bunny Store. I also opened an online shop on Cafe Press  (http://www.cafepress.com/alisongiese). I have calendars, t-shirts, mugs and other printed products featuring my photos, as well as my cards. Cards are typically $4 each, or less if ordered in quantity.

SDHRS: What makes your cards unique or better than other similar products?

Alison: My photos are all of rescued animals (my own and fosters). And for the most part, the photos depict rabbits doing what they do naturally, although I confess I do occasionally pose them with holiday props. I also have a variety of styles… some cards are basically untouched photos, and others are highly Photoshopped, with “talk bubbles” and other digital modifications.

SDHRS: How many rabbits/pets do you have now?

Alison: Over the years of volunteering for SDHRS, I have faced a lot of temptation! I now have 10 rabbits and two dogs (both of them are really great with the bunnies) and three foster bunnies. And if that wasn’t enough, I also have a bunny-sitting business (which is my primary income), so there are always lots of bunnies in my home. I am home all day, so they all get lots of attention. And I’m a bit of a neat freak, so I’m very fortunate that my wonderfully supportive husband, George, helps me with the daily cleaning. He loves the bunnies, too.

SDHRS: There are so many card options out there. Why should people shop locally or from you?

Alison: Because indirectly, they are helping rabbit rescue efforts. A little more than five years ago I resigned from my job of nine years which enabled me to spend a lot more time volunteering for SDHRS and taking in more homeless rabbits (in the form of both adoptions and fostering). I started bunny-sitting and designing greeting cards to earn enough money to cover my expenses. If I didn’t have this income, I’d have to go back to back to working full-time for someone else, which would force me to cut back significantly on the volunteer work I do for SDHRS. So that’s how people are also helping SDHRS by buying my products and boarding their bunnies with me. Oh, and also, they get the cutest bunny greeting cards around. ;-)

Flopper’s Garden Offers Bunny Botanicals

This is the second interview in our series featuring local vendors in the San Diego Area. Sue Paul is the proprietor of Flopper’s Garden, an Oceanside-based business that offers all natural botanicals and wellness treats for companion rabbits and other small furries (and the humans that love them). We talked with Sue about how she “grew” her business.

SDHRS: First Question: Is their a Flopper?

Sue: Yes, I named my company in honor of my first rescued rabbit, a beautiful French angora named Bunny Flop. I started the company not only to offer the highest quality pet rabbit botanical products, but also as a way to support the rabbit rescue community.
SDHRS: What are some examples of your products?
Flopper's Garden Snack Crackers

Flopper's Garden Snack Crackers

Sue: I offer dried herbal mixes and snack supplements, plants, chew treats, and my new hydroponic bunny garden. I use gentle culinary and wild herbs, grasses, leaves, and flowers to create products that support a rabbit’s natural diet and that appeal to their foraging nature.
SDHRS: How do herbs and botanicals help rabbits?
SUE: Herbs are special types of plants that are useful as food, flavoring, or as a therapeutic agent to bring about a change in the body. Some herbs are nourishing, some tonify, some stimulate or calm (and some are potential poisons to rabbits).  In today’s world of monoculture agriculture, which doesn’t give a rabbit the full nutrition and wellness benefits from the wild herbs and grasses they would selectively feed from in their natural environment, products like mine offer back into the diet what a rabbit would normally find in the wild.
SDHRS: You have a reputation for purity and quality in your products. How do you develop your blends?
Hydroponic Garden

Hydroponic Garden Grown Especially for Bunnies

Sue: Much thought goes into each of my products. I only use organically grown botanicals known to be safe for rabbits. I choose certified organic suppliers with high standards and a good reputation in the natural medicine field. They adhere to strict procedures concerning the growing, harvesting, handling, drying, and storing of botanicals. This includes lab analysis for quality and consistency. It also includes keeping facilities’ temperature and humidity regulated to protect the aroma and color profile of the botanicals.  I make everything in small batches by hand  to ensure freshness. Many other products use  fruit for palatability, but I’ve managed to avoid that (except cranberry).

My  approach is to gently support various systems of the body with food, herbs, and other botanicals to bring the body back into balance and build overall optimal health. Each product is not just for enjoyment or a treat but also has a health focus. My Bunny Bouquet Hay Topper and Organic Snack Crackers are two of my top selling products. They provide extra nutrition and fiber naturally along with other wellness benefits. The crackers support a healthy digestive system while indulging a rabbit’s snack habit and the Hay Topper is a great way to see if a bunny enjoys flowers and herbs. All my products have approval by my resident product testers, too!
SDHRS: How did you get involved in nutrition?
Sue: I am a Holistic Health Practitioner with training in nutrition and natural products, specialty fitness, bodywork therapies, aromatherapy and essential oil therapies, as well as western herbology. I’ve used my skills for over 20 years to help people live healthier lives in harmony with nature.  I decided about three years ago to combine this background and my lifelong love of bunnies to create Flopper’s Garden.  Since then I’ve been developing my product line, first for my own rabbits and local rabbit rescue community, and now I’m getting organized to make my products more widely available.
SDHRS: Your job sounds like fun!
Sue: Being very food oriented myself and curious about natural nutrition and holistic health, I love researching about potential health benefits of  plants. I enjoy the challenge of creating new combinations that offer benefits in a delivery form that rabbits enjoy. It’s especially fun when going through the new product development process to test for enjoyment with my own rabbits, especially when I get a winner!
SDHRS: How can people obtain your products?
Sue: Some of my products are available through the San Diego House Rabbit Society Bunny Store and some from BinkyBunny.com.  Or by contacting me at floppersgarden@mac.com or calling me at (760)231-6653.

Meet the Creator of the Cottontail Cottage

Today’s blog post is the first in a series of interviews with local San Diego vendors who provide unique products to the rabbit community. The San Diego House Rabbit Society store carries these products and much more, so if you’re looking for gifts for your bunnies or your bunny friends, the store is your one-stop destination.

The Bunny Store will be open on December 18 from 12-3pm. This is your last chance to stock up on supplies or buy gifts before Christmas, so get your buns in there. The store will be closed Christmas Day, and we will reopen on January 1, 2011.

Amy Spintman invented the Cottontail Cottage, which can be seen in just about every rabbit’s home. We sat down with Amy to find out how her popular product came to be.

SDHRS: How did you become a rabbit person?

Amy: I’ve been a “cat person” my entire life. After moving  to San Diego, I wanted to get another pet in addition to my cat, and got a guinea pig. Tilly the piggy had a nice long life, and when she passed away I wanted to get a pet which would interact more with my cat. I did a lot of research, and actually read the House Rabbit Handbook cover-to-cover before deciding that a rabbit was the right pet for me AND my cat. At first I thought I was unusual for keeping a rabbit indoors and spoiling her rotten, but then I found San Diego HRS and learned that I was not alone.

SDHRS: How did you come to live in San Diego?

Amy: During my senior year of college I got stuck in a snowstorm driving between my home in Maryland and college in New York, and my car wound up in a ditch. I decided at that moment that I no longer wanted to live in a cold climate, and went to graduate school in Florida. As part of my master’s degree, I did a semester-long internship in Santa Barbara, and then moved to San Diego. I didn’t have a job, and didn’t know a single person. It was just me and my cat, Skimble. That was in 1987, and it was the best decision I ever made. No more driving in the snow for me!

SDHRS: Tell us about your volunteer activities.

Amy: I started volunteering for SDHRS in 1996, and became a licensed educator the following year. My volunteer activities over the years have included education events, packing hay, event planning, and answering chapter e-mails and phone calls. I was on the Board of Directors for several years, and have maintained the chapter’s mailing list since 1997.

SDHRS: How many rabbits/pets do you have now?

Amy: I have just two rabbits at the moment. After having as many as eight rabbits, I’m enjoying the quality time I can spend with these two. I adopted each of them from San Diego House Rabbit Society when they were at least 7 years old, and they’re over 10 years old now and have special needs related to their age. I also have a big black cat, Salem. I adopted him when I had the eight rabbits, and he fit right in. He even loves to munch on hay.

SDHRS:  What inspired the idea of the Cottontail Cottage?

Amy: There was previously a mass-marketed cardboard playhouse called the “Lazy Cat Lodge” which was marketed for cats. Many of us found that our rabbits enjoyed it more than our cats did. I met the manufacturer at a trade show once and suggested that they market it for rabbits also, and they thought I was crazy. Shortly afterwards they discontinued the product entirely, so I took the opportunity to create something similar, with some tweaks to make it more attractive and rabbit-friendly. That was about 10 years ago. I already had the business Cats & Rabbits & More at the time, and was able to add it to my product line. Although I sell lots of other toys for rabbits on the website, about 90% of my sales are for the Cottage.

SDHRS: Why do you think the cottage has been such a hit?

Amy: The Cottage serves multiple purposes for rabbits. As prey animals, they’re naturally attracted to places where they can safely hide out and rest. They’re also curious and full and energy and enjoy running through the openings and exploring the world from different vantage points. I refer to the Cottontail Cottage as a “bunny magnet,” because no matter where you put one in the house or x-pen, rabbits will naturally gravitate towards it.

SDHRS: There are some similar “cottages” on the market. What makes your Cottontail Cottage unique?

Amy: I designed the Cottage to look like, well, a Cottage, and not just a cardboard box with holes. It has cute graphics and cutouts so it will look nice in a home.

SDHRS: Tell us about the background of Cats & Rabbits & More, and how your work ties in with SDHRS.

Amy: I started Cats & Rabbits & More in 1998 for two purposes: To sell high-quality toys for rabbits (at that time, they were few and far between), and to help promote adoptable small animals in Southern California. When I started the business and the website, many rescue groups and shelters, especially the smaller ones, did not yet have websites, so this was the only online resource they had to promote their adoptable animals. CRM is separate from San Diego House Rabbit Society, but because I’m an active volunteer with the chapter, we’ve been able to tie it in with the chapter as an additional resource, and to also promote the rabbits in local shelters which our chapter volunteers help care for. There are about 5 volunteers who help keep the website updated.

When I started the business, I put “cats” in the name because I didn’t think I’d get enough business or interest just focusing on the rabbits and wanted to include both of my favorite animals. However, the website and the business has evolved to being about 95% focused on rabbits. I sell a few cat items (and cats like the Cottage, too), but they really don’t sell very well. I think part of that is because you can get cat toys anywhere, whereas good quality rabbit toys are harder to come by.

SDHRS:  Why should people shop locally or from CRM?

Amy: People purchase rabbit toys from CRM not only because of the uniqueness of the items, but also because they know they’re dealing directly with someone who shares their love for rabbits and supports rabbit rescue. I know many of my customers personally, and have become friends with many of them over the years through e-mail and Facebook. I also regularly donate Cottontail Cottages to rabbit rescue groups for their fundraising events.

SDHRS: So where can people get a Cottontail Cottage for their bunnies?

Amy: The Cottage starts at $17.99 and is available at the San Diego HRS Bunny Store. You can also find it through Cats & Rabbits & More as well as rabbit rescue groups and other rabbit-friendly retailers.

Harness Testers Needed

Over the summer San Diego HRS had a booth at an avian veterinary conference at the San Diego Convention Center. Many avian vets also treat “exotics”, which includes rabbits.

I got to talking with a representative from The Parrot University about harnesses. Apparently, parrots can use harnesses, too!

The rep was kind enough to send us a couple of harness samples to see if they might be suitable for rabbits.

There are two different sizes (X-Large and XX-Large), but keep in mind the sizes are designed for birds. The design is similar to the “H-Style” harness marketed for rabbits but this one has no clips or fasteners, only elastic. The harnesses are adjustable and come with a long elastic leash.

I need a few volunteers who would be willing to try out these harnesses on their rabbits. If your rabbit is already used to wearing a harness, great! You can help me compare this product to others you may have used. Never tried a harness before? No problem! Talk us through what your rabbit makes of it and whether you’d use it again.

The harnesses also come with an instructional DVD to watch.

Interested? Contact Chandra Beal at chandra@sandiegorabbits.org

Rabbit Trophy Hunting

No, this is not about what you think.

It’s a fun topic.

I recently discovered British artist Shauna Richardson who creates trophy-like pieces she calls “Crochetdermy.”

It’s certainly a non-cruel way to display your favorite animal over the fireplace or doorway. Although, her pieces are not for the thrifty-minded – prices range from approximately $600 to $20,000.

What do you think of Shauna’s “Crochetdermy”?

Ohlala! A new kind of bunny slipper…

This pair of high heels turns the idea of bunny slippers on its ears….They’re made from satin and faux fur, so you know that no actual bunnies were harmed in the making.

Available at Faire Frou Frou for $63.

Cool Product Alert: Tunnel Haven

This product from BinkyBunny looks like it could provide hours and hours of destructive, bunny fun.

I’ll bet BinkyBunny even accepts the new House Rabbit Society VISA card!

 

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