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Run to recognize rabbits: Sweet Home responds to continuing issue with humor, new event

By Benny Westcott
Of The New Era/Lebanon Local

When Kelcey Young became Sweet Home’s city manager last year, she had to acquaint herself with many facets of her new job and home.

One quirky problem the former Clearlake, California, finance director likely wasn’t expecting: rabbits, rabbits everywhere.

As Sweet Home Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lagea Mull said, “Lebanon has their turkeys and Sweet Home has rabbits, if you haven’t noticed.”

However, instead of avoiding the issue, Young chose in part to lean into it creatively, brewing an event called the Rabbit Run, which encourages participants to dress as the notoriously cuddly but feral (and multiplying) herbivores for a mile-long jaunt while local animal sanctuaries man tables to promote awareness and offer options to deal with the infestation.

“We really encourage people to dress up,” said Mull, who’s helping with the event through her Chamber role. “Wear your favorite bunny ears.”

The Rabbit Run, er, runs from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Saturday, May 20, at Sankey Park, 877 14th Ave. Registration is $10 for individuals, $25 for families. For registration information, visit https://bit.ly/3NOVq7w.

Proceeds from the event go to building a community garden that will be accessible to the community at little to no cost. There will be a sliding scale based on income for renting plots, said Young, who discussed how she came up with the idea.

“The brainstorming process was honestly just ‘OK, we have these rabbits. What we could do is we could have a Rabbit Run,'” she recalled.

Indeed, the event is a tongue-in-cheek nod to a mysterious problem that has plagued the city since at least late 2021. Madeline Landrum, executive director and founder of Jade Rabbit Small Animal Rescue in Lebanon, documented the issue that November by photographing a cluster of five feral rabbits on Kalmia Street, then posted the evidence on the organization’s Facebook page.

“As I pulled into the neighborhood, there were rabbits darting from house to house everywhere,” she wrote.

“It’s absolutely sickening how many there were. My goal would be to start working on this colony to the best of my ability, but the sheer number of rabbits is very disheartening. Even if I saved a couple rabbits a month, they would just reproduce and quadruple in numbers. There’s just not enough homes for all these rabbits.”

The New Era covered the ongoing infestation the following May (https://bit.ly/3M6PEMU), speaking to residents who found themselves taking on sudden caretaking roles for new house guests.

A trio of rabbits crouches near a car parked behind the old American Legion hall off Long Street last year.

Lisa Stoke and her daughter had spotted at least four adult and 10 baby domesticated rabbits at Sunnyside Park on May 5, the same day park host Mark Hermansen contacted Kathy Cozby about a family of rabbits, one mother and seven babies, that had been dropped off in the day-use area before moving into a restroom.

Rabbits returned to the front page later, this time in more official quarters, when resident Lorie Turner addressed the issue and offered a plan during the Sweet Home City Council’s Oct. 25 meeting (bit.ly/3LKuhQa).

“We need to identify where these animals are, we need to get them captured and then we need to figure out how to dispose of them,” she said. “I think the first two steps are pretty easy. But getting rid of them is not going to be so easy.

“There are no shelters that can take them, and they cannot be butchered for food. It would be nice to just have a rabbit hunt and resolve the problem. I’m for that. Whatever it takes. But it needs to be done humanely. Don’t just go bop them on the head. It needs to be with respect.”

The Rabbit Run doesn’t take itself quite so seriously (and involves no hunting). In fact, it’s designed to be an awful lot of fun.

“We thought a run would be good for the community,” Young said. “And we’re keeping it a fun run so that it’s available for all ages and ability, and just something fun for the community to do to get out there.”

“There,” in this instance, is the parking lot at Sankey Park, where the event begins.

Runners will then cross Weddle Bridge and the junior varsity baseball field, then head north on 18th Avenue before turning west on Long Street. Participants will then travel south on 12th Avenue and east on Kalmia Street, before taking 14th back to the park.

The run isn’t meant to be super-competitive.

“It’s just a mile, so most people can handle it,” Mull said. “And when we say ‘run,’ that’s a very loose term. You can walk, you can jog, you can hop. So it’ll be just a fun time to get out with your family.”

The chamber encourages merchants to offer “pop-ups” at checkpoints along the route. Mull threw out some ideas, including “having a shot of carrot juice or maybe some carrot cupcakes, or, if you want to get super-creative, rabbit stew. Why not?”

The city used to put on a Sweetheart Run every February. The seventh took place in 2021 before the event was discontinued. That event also helped address community needs, with proceeds supporting Sweet Home and east Linn County youth through Sweet Home Rotary Club-directed literacy, scholarship and leadership programs.

However, the Sweetheart Run was timed, unlike the Rabbit Run, which, Mull stresses, is “not as intensive.”

Organizers also hope Rabbit Run’s weather will be more accommodating than its winter counterpart.

“As you can imagine,” Mull said, “the weather isn’t always super nice in February in Sweet Home. [This is] just a chance to get out and have some fun exercise with the family.”