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Thousands gather for rabbit breeder show in Wichita

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, at 7:32 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, at 7:42 p.m.

There are rabbits everywhere you look at Century II’s Expo Hall.

More than 21,840 rabbits have gathered for the 89th annual American Rabbit Breeders Association Convention and Show.

And then, of course, so have the 2,000 breeders from across the nation who brought the rabbits.

“Primarily most of the people are from surrounding states that could drive in and carry the animals with them,” said Erik Bengston, a rabbit judge from Zumbrota, Minn. “A number of people flew in with their animals from New York and Florida.”

Some came from much farther away: The president of England’s rabbit breeders is somewhere in the crowd, Bengston said, as is the man best known as “the godfather of rabbits in Australia.”

Rabbits and people started arriving at Century II last Thursday. The show ends Wednesday.

Theresa Schwandt, a rabbit breeder from near Beaver Dam, Wis., and her husband, Dan, drove their van to Wichita with 58 rabbits for the show.

“They all ride in carrying cages in their own compartments with a little food and water dish and hay to chew on,” Schwandt said.

All told, there are 47 recognized rabbit breeds at the show and 14 different cavy breeds, which include animals such as guinea pigs. The Schwandts raise Dutch rabbits in all six colors: black, blue, chocolate, gray, steel and torte.

They travel the rabbit show circuit, often going to about 30 shows a year. Why rabbits?

“It is the people,” Theresa Schwandt said. “The people here are the nicest people. You make friends.

“Every time you travel across the country to a national show, you meet someone who has an interest in either the same breed you are raising or share the passion of the hobby you have come to enjoy. Every year you get to see these people who become like family.

“But you know, I also like to win, too.”

During this show, one of her rabbits took Best Opposite Gray and three others won their classes.

“That was very good,” Schwandt said. “ … We’ve never won the big one, but that is still pretty respectable.”

The smell of sawdust hangs heavy in the air. Rabbits, all shapes and sizes, hop in cages and eye visitors who pass among their rows.

A booth at the edge of hall is devoted to the history and legacy of rabbit breeding.

“Back in the early 1900s, people used a lot of rabbit fur for the linings of hats and gloves and ate rabbit regularly,” Bengston said. “That continued on until the 1950s when commercially bred beef and pork became more available and cheaper.

“Plus the Easter Bunny became more popular then. Once people say Easter Bunny, they don’t want to eat rabbit.”

Indeed, at the convention’s banquet, the menu choice was beef or salmon.

“These are show rabbits,” Bengston said.

“They are just like show cats, dogs or livestock.”

And, they make great pets, he said.

“They don’t bark.”

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com.

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