Today we’d like to introduce you to Joy Gioia.
Hi Joy, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
There are many like me. I’ve always loved animals. I raised my first orphan cottontail when I was ten and they periodically continued to pop into my life. My main love, though, was horses. I tamed a wild mustang who lived to be 37 years old and earned his grand national championship in the Spanish Mustang Registry. Towards the end of his life, there was a major flooding of the Mississippi River in St. Louis. It created many needs, but one was helping impacted wildlife and I became involved in wildlife rehab. I worked with all of the animals, did ICU, was a training instructor and so forth, but caring for cottontails was my specialty.
Some years later, our rehab was contacted by a park ranger who found an injured rabbit in a park and he brought the bunny to us. It was a little white bunny. Definitely not a cottontail, but she was injured so I took her home and promptly found out how little I knew about domestic rabbits. She turned out to be nothing at all like what I thought a domestic rabbit would be like and she basically changed my life after finding out how difficult things are for domestic rabbits. They are the third most abandoned pet in the country, yet there are few resources for them; I heard about a very small group just getting started in St. Louis as a House Rabbit Society chapter. With the background I had, the group encouraged me to become very involved and take on the position of chapter manager.
For many years the main foster home and headquarters were primarily in my basement, but my goal had always been to someday have a shelter building just for domestic rabbits. With the growth of our chapter and the many dedicated volunteers within our group, that became a reality in 2013. It has continued to grow and save thousands of rabbits over the years by getting them into loving, indoor homes and educating people on the appropriate care of rabbits as indoor animal companions. Next year our chapter will celebrate its 25th anniversary.
We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
I’m not sure a smooth road exists. Funds are needed anytime you run an organization, feed animals, provide housing, and do medical care. Most grants and animal interests reside in dogs and cats. Doing fundraising for rabbits is quite difficult. Getting any type of media attention for the plight of domestic rabbits is nearly impossible. Ideas were generated, however, and over the years, we managed to do things that created education, generated funds and brought in adopters.
We also maintained our organization as a 100% volunteer group so that every penny we earned went directly towards helping the animals in our care. As we grew, we reached the point where continuing in my basement was no longer a viable option so we started the search for an appropriate building. It took two years before the right place turned up, but there were some seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It took a lot of people to make it work, but in the end, we had our own shelter for the bunnies.
We are by no means at the end of struggling. The more we did, the more there was to do. The more people who learned about us, the more they reached out to us to help with abandoned rabbits, literally abandoned. Animal controls do not want to deal with stray rabbits and most animal shelters want nothing or little to do with them. Covid did not help. Last year our volunteers went out and caught 139 rabbits in both the metro area and surrounding areas in Missouri and Illinois. An additional 94 were found and caught by others who brought them to us. With the other rabbits we took in we ended up taking in 440 rabbits last year. In 2019, our total intake was 287. This is a significant increase when you consider that every spay or neuter is over $100 for rabbits and that cage cleaning, daily care, building maintenance and grounds maintenance is done completely by volunteers, Medical bills soared to over $80,000 and that’s in addition to our mortgage payment, utilities, feed bills, etc. On top of that, we had all of the issues surrounding operating in a Covid environment. We have incredible volunteers, though, and with a strict Covid policy in place, we have worked through many difficulties while continuing to educate our adopters and continue adoptions.
Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
Although I studied art in college, a twist in life happened and most of my professional life was in the travel industry, where I spent many years as a training instructor. One of my passions is sharing knowledge that can make a difference. Music was something I also enjoyed. I’ve sung many times in the choir with the St. Louis Symphony and at important events in St. Louis history. When our sons were in high school, I became involved with a group doing variety shows and helped turn it into an amateur theatre group with original scripts to raise money for students in need. I was the president of a saddle club that did very innovative events and brought in people from far around.
With the wildlife rehab group, I learned a lot more about animal medical care, did ICU, training and was on the BOD. However, working with abandoned rabbits and finding them homes has probably allowed me to make the biggest impact in helping both animals and people. You’d really be surprised at the kind of impact you can make on people’s lives when working with them and bringing an animal into their lives. Our chapter not only strives to help the animals but to create an atmosphere of belonging so that our adopters and volunteers enjoy being part of our group. Our adopters know they can turn to us for help in a variety of ways. One thing that I consider most outstanding is how eclectic our group has always been and how accepting our group is of everyone. We pretty much have only one requirement; love bunnies. After all, the bunnies don’t care who you are as long as you love them and care for them.
Risk taking is a topic that people have widely differing views on – we’d love to hear your thoughts.
Risk is part of life. Stepping into new things is a risk. Daring to meet new challenges is a risk. At one point, we were seriously struggling financially, but we got together, turned over some ideas, and were able to turn around our financial difficulties. When our chapter sincerely needed to take the next step in getting our own building, we needed a 20% down payment and a substantial bank loan. Believe me, asking a bank for over $200,ooo, when you are a volunteer bunny rescue is nearly impossible. However, over the years, our treasurer had kept spotless records and one bank seriously looked at our records, our history, and our business plan and thought we could actually pull off handling the loan. Taking on so much debt, caring for animals as cost of everything increased was definitely a challenge and risk.
Fortunately, our business plan was sound and though it took some time to gain momentum, we’ve not only handled our loan, we’ve been able to increase the size of our shelter and build a sound financial organization. However, Covid has created another struggle and operating during a pandemic while keeping everyone safe and healthy has been another big risk. So I suppose my perspective is that life is a risk. If you want to live, to experience things and grow, you must take risks.
- Our membership fee is only $25 per year per family and we are always happy to have donations. We are a 501(c)3 organization so donations are tax deductible.
- Email: email@example.com
- Website: https://www.morabbit.org/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/stlouishouserabbitsociety/ and https://www.instagram.com/stlouisbunnyhouse/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/StLouisHouseRabbit/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/HRSMOStLouis
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6EWgGsnHLUY – This is the one used to help us raise funds for the down payment on our shelter building. We’ve also started a talk show series call All Ears Talk Show with Bobbie Shewmaker and Joy Gioia plus there are a few other YouTubes we have out there.