Jody and 'Fort'

Jodi DeGeorge holds a juvenile lop-eared bunny named “Fort.” The bunny was found in a box on the side of a Highway 26 exit ramp. On New Year’s Eve, a community of Facebook users formed to help find the bunny a home.

When Fort Atkinson resident Kenneth Brueckner stopped on the highway to check out a box, he had no idea what he might find. Nor could he predict the chain of events his good deed would spark.

It was just before New Year’s Eve, Kenneth recalled, and he was driving home on State Highway 26 after picking up groceries in Jefferson, when, as he entered the off ramp for the U.S. Highway 12 exit, he noticed what appeared to be a cardboard pet carrier standing upright on the shoulder of the road.

“It got my curiosity. So I pulled off the highway and pulled back up and went to the ramp, and I stopped to check it out,” Kenneth said, adding that when he opened the box and looked inside, he saw what appeared to be a young lop-eared rabbit.

“It looked small, like a juvenile, and I didn’t know how long it had been there,” he said. “There was a blanket in there, though, and I was mad. I thought: This isn’t right, so I picked it up and texted my wife because I was so mad, and then I drove home.”

At home, Kenneth and his wife, Allyson, assessed the situation.

“The rabbit looked cold when Allyson picked it up — it curled up like it was cold,” Kenneth said, adding it seemed scared.

Both he and Allyson are animal lovers, and they wanted to help, but they already had in their care several pets including three dogs, a tortoise and a lizard.

Looking for solutions, on New Year’s Eve a neighbor posted the story about the bunny in the box on a Facebook community forum. The story garnered much attention, as commenters on the post discussed options such as the Humane Society, or finding somebody with experience with rabbits who might like a pet.

Many commenters were upset, as Kenneth was, that the bunny had met with its roadside fate.

And that’s when Fort Atkinson resident Jillian DeGeorge happened upon the post.

A bunny in need of care

Jillian said when she saw the post about the bunny on Facebook she thought of her mom, Jodi, because she has raised rabbits and still keeps a few as pets.

Jodi’s birthday was approaching and Jillian thought the bunny might make a nice gift.

After talking with her mom, she said, she reached out to the Facebook poster and made arrangements to bring the bunny home.

Her next stop, she said, was to a pet store to pick up some supplies. At that point, she said, she examined the bunny more closely.

“I saw he was in terrible condition,” Jillian said, describing bits of frozen feces balled between the rabbit’s back legs, which, she said, appeared not to be moving.

It still was New Year’s Eve, she said, and while she tried to find a local vet, the ones she contacted were closed and unable to help.

Jillian brought the bunny home, gave him a bath and blow-dry.

Up until that point, she said, she didn’t think anybody realized the bunny was hurt.

“They just thought it needed a home,” Jillian said, adding that Jodi, who lives in Lake Zurich, Ill., arrived a few hours later.

In the meantime, Jillian said, the bunny received some food and water, and played with a chew toy.

“He seemed just happy to be around people again,” she said.

Road to recovery

After receiving the Facebook post shared with her by Jillian, Jodi said her first thought was to call Kenneth and Allyson and offer some tips about bunny care. Instead, she said, “I sent my daughter to pick it up.”

After she and the bunny arrived home in Illinois, another daughter, Juliette, who has been involved with raising rabbits through 4-H, determined that the bunny was male and about 10 or 11 weeks old.

When Jodi arrived in Fort Atkinson and saw the bunny for the first time, she said: “He looked amazing, he was bathed and fluffy, but he was not moving his hind legs at all. Jillian said, ‘Mom, I think there’s something wrong.’ The family that rescued him from the road just didn’t know.”

At home, Jodi searched the internet, thinking perhaps the rabbit had “bunny paralysis.” She put cardboard in his enclosure, thinking he might be able to slide around.

That something like this could happen on the last day of 2020 was not a surprise, she said, describing her thoughts about the year that was passing.

On Monday, Jan. 4, Jodi and the bunny, now lovingly named “Fort,” arrived in Madison to visit a veterinarian who had been recommended by another bunny enthusiast.

A series of radiographs produced a disturbing diagnosis, showing several broken bones in Fort’s legs, spine and ribs, Jodi said.

The vet only could speculate as to the cause of such injuries, although she was able to rule out an animal attack or being hit by a car, Jodi noted.

“I don’t know what happened or why,” Jodi continued, adding that euthanasia was offered as an option.

Aided by some birthday money to help pay for Fort’s care, Jodi made the decision to give him a chance.

Jodi said she received pain and anti-inflammatory medications that are administered once a day with an eye dropper, and she was instructed to keep Fort as immobile as possible. In three or four weeks, the vet said, she would be able to know better what kind of outcome the bunny would have.

“Now he’s in a little cat carrier so he can’t hop around,” Jodi said. “He comes to the front of the carrier and likes to get his head rubbed.

He also loves to cuddle. He gets baths twice a day, and he likes to look at the fish,” Jodi said, adding that the family keeps six large fish tanks and several other pets, including two other rabbits.{/div}

“He’s doing good and he has some movement in his back legs,” she pointed out.

Aside from his injuries, he’s in good health,” she added. “He’s worth saving.”

Jodi said she would like to nurse Fort back to full health and then if a person was interested in adopting him, she said: “I’d entertain that.”

She will soon take him to a vet in her area to see what kind of care Fort will require next.

“I don’t know the length of his full recovery time,” Jodi said. “If he can’t function like a normal bunny, maybe will we need a cart. My husband does build, so maybe he can build something if we need a cart. I don’t know how intense this could be, but I’m leaning toward him getting better.”

In the meantime, she said, she is updating people about his progress on Facebook. While the bunny’s name is Fort, Jodi said she briefly entertained calling him Mario Andretti, saying she wanted to give him goals for a speedy recovery, and while she is keeping the goals, she decided his name should be Fort.

A community of kindness

While Fort ended 2020 in peril and distress, 2021 has brought him love, kindness and hope, thanks to a chain of people who thought a bunny’s life was worth saving, Jodi remarked.

“This is just a little bunny, but it was put here to live its life on Earth,” she said. “I want people to take away that there are more good people than bad people. When bad things happen, good people step up.”

While understanding the circumstances that led to Fort’s abandonment is hard for her, Jodi said she is heartened that a community of people assembled to help.

This last year was tough, she concluded, adding: “I hope the person that abandoned the bunny reads this article, and maybe it will set their mind and heart at ease.”

Correction: In the print edition of the Jan. 9 Daily Union, a pullout quote on the front cover was attributed to Allyson Bruekner. The attribution is in error. The person to whom the quote should be attributed is Jodi DeGeorge. The Daily Union regrets the error.

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