When Brenda Andringa awoke from a nine-day, drug-induced coma in 2015, her life had forever changed.
“One moment I’m healthy, the next I’m permanently disabled,” she said. “My passion for life kind of went away.”
It wasn’t until months later when Andringa—the owner of Morgan Hill’s South Bay Rabbit Rescue (SBRR)—was watching the movie “I, Robot” when she decided to change her outlook.
“There was a saying in the movie that said, ‘See a need, fill a need,’” Andringa said. “So I said, ‘You know what, that is exactly what I’m going to do.’ I’m going to see how well I can fill this need.”
Having taken care of rabbits for 25 years on a casual basis, Andringa was now prepared to put all of her time and resources into SBRR, which rescues rabbits and educates, empowers and inspires others to do the same. The nonprofit organization is 100 percent volunteer driven and only one of a handful in the entire Bay Area dedicated to the well-being of the furry mammals.
Although SBRR houses, rescues, rehabilitates and puts rabbits up for adoption, it plays an even bigger role by spaying and neutering them, which adds to their life expectancy, eliminates the risk of reproductive cancers and helps prevent unwanted litters. The latter is of particular concern because rabbits can reproduce at an astounding rate.
“Female rabbits have two utersues—that’s why they can have babies every 31 to 35 days,” Andringa said. “One female rabbit can have upwards of 146 babies a year. Who is going to spay and neuter all those rabbits? So I told myself I’m going to help or find help or both.”
Rabbits that are spayed and neutered also are calmer, easier to manage and in turn more likely to be kept by their adoptive family, said Andringa, who holds a rabbit adoption event most Saturdays from her Creekside Village neighborhood home. During the week, the rabbits are housed on a two-acre property in unincorporated Morgan Hill, in what Andringa is planning to be the future site of SBRR’s permanent structure.
For a host of reasons, the 60-year-old Andringa has a thorough vetting process when it comes to rabbit adoptions.
“We don’t let people adopt just because they want one (on a whim),” she said. “We are going to make sure a rabbit is going to be a good fit for you because we want you to take care of it for the life of the rabbit. We know all of our rabbits’ personalities, so if for example you want a rabbit to sit with you while you’re watching TV, I can tell you if it’s a good fit or not. We spend a lot of time matching people with the right bunnies, and we don’t adopt our rabbits to breeders.”
Long before SBRR became incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit in 2017, Andringa took care of rabbits out of her home.
“People found out I had rabbits and when they didn’t want them anymore, they would give them to me,” she said. “That’s how it all started. I did my best to make sure the rabbits went to the best homes possible and started to see there was a great need for the health and care of rabbits.”
According to Andringa, rabbits are the third most common animals surrendered to shelters, but with the least amount of resources to care for them. SBRR relies on donations and grants as the lifeblood of their operations, which includes the purchase of pellets, hay, litter, medicine, adoption events and the aforementioned spay and neutering costs. Andringa said she makes the adoption fees affordable but enough “so you’re going to take care of the animal.”
SBRR’s fleet of volunteers are vital to its operations. The organization has several student volunteers from Sobrato High who are participating in the Future Farmers of America program.
“They foster and learn to care for the rabbit, but they’re not expected to raise it from birth and sell it,” Andringa said. “It’s a win-win. We support our community, and they need community service hours. Several have ended up adopting a rabbit.”
Or in Avila Williams’ case, three. A seventh-grader at Bret Harte Middle School, Williams has adopted three rabbits in her three years volunteering at SBRR. Whenever Williams spends time volunteering, she immediately finds her happy place.
“Rabbits are calm and radiate this aura of peace,” she said. “I go there to do work, and it’s not necessarily the most fun work, but I enjoy it in the sense I get to spend time with rabbits and do something that’s actually impacting the rabbit’s life, and that’s pretty cool.”
Williams said Andringa’s love for rabbits is evident in all of her actions.
“Brenda is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met,” Williams said. “She’s devoted to rabbits and does anything she can for them. Rabbits gravitate toward her, and she’s just an awesome person. All of the people at South Bay Rabbit Rescue are genuine and care for rabbits in amazing ways.”
When SBRR first opened up, it received dozens of calls every month for assistance in catching rabbits.
“We’ve been called to golf courses, county parks, downtown Gilroy,” Andringa said. “You name it, we’ve been there.”
Over time, Andringa started training park rangers to trap rabbits, which gives SBRR more time to focus on the bunnies’ other needs and adoption events. Andringa said SBRR and other similar organizations serve a vital role because domesticated rabbits are not capable of living an optimum life in the wild.
That was one of the reasons why she started caring for them out of her home many years ago. But the events that transpired on April 5, 2015, would forever alter the course of her life. That’s when Andringa was involved in a horse-training accident that led to her being placed in an induced coma.
“The x-ray of my chest came back black, so the extent of my injuries were unknown at the time,” she said. “They had told my husband (Dennis) that they did not know if I was even going to live.”
Andringa was in a coma for nine days, but Dennis never left her bedside. It was only after Brenda was transferred to the Kaiser Santa Clara facility where she learned the full extent of her injuries, which she said involved 18 rib fractures on her left side to go along with permanent nerve damage. Though she lived, Andringa will have to deal with the repercussions from the accident for the rest of her life. She has three permanently displaced ribs that move, causing her excruciating pain. Because one of the displaced ribs is near her heart sac, she cannot be bumped on her left side. She has a service dog to help her prevent this from happening.
Out of the life-threatening incident came a renewed sense of purpose and vigor. The constant pain only serves as a reminder that she can still make a difference daily through SBRR.
“I have a new lease on life,” she said. “I have learned to live with my limitations. I know how important everyday is.”