Much like many bunny breeds, the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) is probably one of the largest groups you’ve never heard of.
ARBA, which promotes the development of 49 breeds of domestic rabbits and 13 breeds of guinea pigs, is made up of over 23,000 members across the world
. They are young and old, breeders and enthusiasts, professionals and hobbyists. The one thing they have in common? Their beloved rabbits.
The bunnies are bred for meat, as pets, or as show animals, and some breeders raise dozens per year — often too many to bother naming. (For those who intend their rabbits to be food, it's easier not to name them.) It's very easy to end up with a lot of rabbit on your hands, and not just in terms of controlling breeding. Many of the larger kinds, such as the Flemish Giants, can weigh more than 20 pounds
. On the other end of the bunny spectrum, the smaller breeds, such as the Netherland Dwarf, can max out at just a few pounds. Each breed has its enthusiasts, with national specialty clubs
to promote almost every accepted breed.
Photographer Katya Rezvaya has never owned a rabbit of her own, but she has adored them “since childhood.” She became fascinated by the breeding community after watching a documentary about ARBA called Rabbit Fever
. Last fall, Rezvaya went to ARBA’s annual convention in Portland, OR, to document the breeders and their community.
“[The] first thing that I remember were endless rows of cages,” she told Refinery29 by email. She said that there were about 20,000 animals at the five-day show. “I didn't even know that so many types of rabbits exist,” she said. Rezvaya was especially impressed by unusual breeds, such as the Giants and the soft, fluffy Angoras. “The usual reactions of people when I show their images was like: ‘Is that a rabbit?!’” she said.
The convention is an opportunity for the breeders to buy and sell their animals or related goods, as well as compete against the other breeders for titles like Best In Breed and Best In Show. For some of the younger breeders, it’s an opportunity to win a title, too: Every year, the convention names a Royal Court, including a Rabbit King and Queen. “It’s a very exciting event for these kids,” Rezvaya said. “It seemed like a Rabbit Oscar!”
She said that while some of the breeders gave their rabbits numbers instead of names, others shared close relationships with their animals. One teenage girl from California told a story that illustrated the bond between bunny and breeder: “The cage got opened at one of the shows, and all four rabbits ran out,” Rezvaya recounted. “She started to cry, as [she] thought she was never going to catch them.”
“And as she was crying and going to get her mother, all four rabbits just started to follow her,” Rezvaya said. “They followed her like she was their mom.”