In Muir Beach, one couple with a warren and the gusto to fight for bunnies

David Briggs
Christian Riehl and his 11-year-old rabbit Lucy at their home in Muir Beach.  

California is the first state to require pet stores to buy cats, dogs and rabbits from shelters and rescue centers rather than from breeders. Among the champions of Assembly Bill 485, which goes into effect in January 2019, are Muir Beach rabbit lovers Leslie and Christian Riehl, whose home study today houses four rescued bunnies whose names are scrawled in red Sharpie above their cages: Esmeralda, Miss California, Lucile and Clive Bixby (a nod to ABC’s “Modern Family”). “We’ve had up to nine rabbits here at one time,” Ms. Riehl chuckled, unfazed by the warren’s size. “Well in our crowd…” The Riehls are longtime volunteers with the Mill Valley-based animal organization SaveABunny, a nonprofit that coordinates with over 30 regional animal shelters to help abandoned and neglected rabbits get another chance at finding a home. Mr. Riehl, a retired cash manager for Bank of America and Citigroup, monitors donations and writes thank-you cards while Ms. Riehl, a retired railroad consultant, maintains the databases that keep track of the 5,000 rabbits rescued since 1999. They’ve personally housed 15 rabbits since 2004, some years after their son, Fletcher, adopted their first, Blackie, from a neighbor. “They’re part of the family,” Ms. Riehl said. “Once you’re hooked on a rabbit, you’re hooked.” They let the rabbits roam the house in the morning and evening, but forbid them from exploring the outdoors, to avoid both predators and the toxic raccoon scat the bunnies might sample. Their diet consists mainly of hay mixed with small portions of parsley, cilantro and mustard and dandelion greens. Carrots, however, are a delicacy. “They love it, but it has too much sugar and destroys their bowels,” Mr. Riehl said. The rabbits live in individual pens unless they’ve bonded; such is the case for Lucile and Clive. “Rabbits will bond for life,” Ms. Riehl said. “They’ll lie down next to each other and eat at the same time. Like a ballet, they’ll groom each other at the same time. It really is the perfect marriage.” (When their daughter Rebecca married seven years ago, Ms. Riehl wrote her a short book titled “A Bunny’s Guide to a Hoppy Marriage.”) The couple is also involved in politics. Since the legislative victory of A.B. 485, the Riehls have focused on an ongoing battle with Marin County over the recent lifting of a 14-year ban on commercial animal slaughter. “With Marin’s current slaughter provisions, as it stands now, a farmer can slaughter up to 20,000 rabbits, and [the rabbits] have zero protections,” Mr. Riehl said. “There are American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines for how a rabbit should be slaughtered, but there’s nothing in Marin County that says those should be followed. I checked in with two supervisors to rectify this and they have not done anything. We are pursuing other options. Stay tuned.”