You won’t find beds in the three bedrooms of Randy Koga’s Ceres home.
The human furniture was moved out years ago to move in rabbit cages and metal fencing to corral 44 rabbits — many of which roam freely over carpeted floors.
Koga, a 58-year-old Ceres print shop employee, sleeps in a bed moved into his living room filled with makeshift tables on which rabbits freely roam.
This unusual setting is Trinket’s Memorial Rabbit Sanctuary, a non-profit rabbit rescue organization that Koga operates inside of his modest home one block from busy Whitmore Avenue.
“This started as a hobby and I just like them,” said Koga, who moved into the house in 2001 when it was more for humans.
Koga remembers a time when he hunted rabbits and small animals for sport. Something deep changed within him about 10 years ago after watching a friend take care of Trinket, a Canadian rabbit which suffered from Encephalitozoon Cuniculi, a parasite that affects the nervous system and resulted in the loss of rabbit's use of its legs.
“She took care of that rabbit to the end and spent thousands of dollars on her,” said Koga who initially thought why bother since a rabbit costs about $8 and can be easily replaced. “When the light came on I realized, well, it’s because she loved that rabbit. Just from my witness of that it completely changed me. It’s a 180-degree turn.”
Caring for and rehabilitating rabbits became the calm in his life. He admits spending time in prison for manufacturing methamphetamine.
“All that’s way back there now,” he said. “That was 21 years ago. Now I’m focused on taking care of these rabbits.”
Today the bunnies — which he adopts to good homes — are what drives his life.
Before his love for rabbits kicked in, Koga would not give much care to backyard rabbits owned as a pet. He remembers going away on a weeklong vacation and leaving rabbits in the care of self-supplying feeders and watering devices.
“I don’t do that no more. I don’t hardly leave.”
When he does leave to go to work, Koga keeps visual contact with the rabbits through surveillance cameras inside and outside the residence which he monitors on his smart phone.
Word spread as fast as a jack rabbit can run about Koga taking in and caring for rabbits that others found loose in neighborhoods. He reached the point that he does not encourage drop-offs any more but he often accepts domestic rabbits passed off on him by Stanislaus Wildlife Care Center near Hughson.
Koga, a Japanese-American who was born in Santa Rosa, traces his personal rabbit rescue mission back to the time he had been volunteering at a Stockton pet rescue facility. They sent him to pick up 26 rabbits on Apollo Street. Koga and the facility clashed over the proper care so he rounded them up and brought them to his home. He kept them and spayed and neutered them with the intent to farm them out to good homes.
Eventually Koga decided to adopt out his rabbits. On most Saturdays he sets up a table at Petco on Evergreen Avenue in Modesto from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and lets people begin the process of adoption.
“Once the rabbits become mine it’s hard for me to adopt them out because I don’t trust the other person how they’re going to take care of them,” said Koga.
He makes a prospective adoptee wait a day to make sure they really want one. Then he has them submit an online application.
He has one set of six siblings that he won’t adopt unless all are taken “because they’re all bonded together.”
Koga employs some unorthodox methods in his operation, selecting non-jumping rabbits to reside on tables made of plywood. He lets some rabbits roam the carpeted bedrooms, saying they are so clean he only vacuums once a week.
Conventional thinking says that rabbits would prefer to live outside but Koga believes domestic rabbits “actually do really well inside a house. If you spay and neuter them they litter box train really easily. They interact with me. One sleeps right next to me on the bed.
There are side benefits to spaying or neutering a rabbit. The females’ chances of dying young from uterine cancer are greatly diminished and the males not only are less aggressive but they become more prone to use the litter box.
Koga’s operation costs about $17,000 a year for vet services and pet supplies but he pulls in about $14,000 in donations made through several sources, including PayPal. He has a large following on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/Trinkets-Memorial-Sanctuary and is on petfinder.com (trinketsrabbitsanctuary.petfinder.com). Donor dollars have come from Australia and Hawaii and the Philippines and the Singapore.
One rabbit was injured by jumping out of a pen and ended up with paralyzed hind legs. Rather than fly the rabbit to a specialist in Canada, Koga said he was preparing to sell his Harley to cover costs. Instead donors generate $4,000 in under four weeks.
Koga’s heart for animals extends to possums as well. He rescued eight babies from his workplace where they were in danger of being hit by cars and brought them to his house where he fed them. His intent was to release them back into the wild but they escaped into the neighborhood.
Koga receives help with clean-up and rabbit care from his girlfriend, Jana Barton and his sister, Kari Koga of Modesto.