When Bernie Haberle decided rabbits would make good pets for her young children, she didn't know she was sparking a family tradition that would grow with the generations.
Her daughter, Michelle Hicks of Tracy, and granddaughter, Meridith Hicks, 17, have joined her in the endeavor, and the common ground has made the whole family closer.
"When we're together, we always talk about rabbits," Haberle said.
Photos by Jodelle Greiner
Michelle Hicks inspects a rabbit that Kerry Netzke is thinking of buying. Michelle Hicks grew up with rabbits and is now coaching her own children, including oldest daughter, Meridith, on raising them.
"Definitely, a lot of our phone calls are about advice and when Mom comes out here, we go out to the rabbit barn," said Michelle Hicks, who has eight children with husband, Brian. "The kids are definitely close to their grandma."
"It's a fun family project," said Meridith Hicks, the oldest. "Everyone gets into it and helps with chores. I probably wouldn't still be in it without my family. Both Mom and Grandma have been a big help."
Learning and growing, both as rabbit handlers and as people, is what it's about for this family.
Haberle, who knew "nothing" about rabbits before she and her husband, Kenneth, got some when their children were small, has learned so much she's now a judge at rabbit shows and mentors not only 10 of her 14 grandchildren, but other children, as well.
"I work with a lot of kids throughout the state for the 4-H rabbit state fair," said Haberle, adding she spends seven days in St. Paul for the fair every year. She is a member of the Suburban Twins Rabbit Club, which features 16,000 to 17,000 rabbits. "The grandkids help set up and take down and run the show," she said.
She and her sister go to the national show and Haberle takes two of her grandchildren with her.
"Last year at nationals in Michigan, I was overall grand champion, best of breed in satin with Bea," said Meridith Hicks.
"It's the neatest thing to take your grandkids to a national show," she said. "I love watching the kids with the rabbits."
One thing Haberle's noticed is how her daughter and granddaughter are always looking to improve.
"No matter what you're doing, you need to think of how you can improve," Haberle said. "That's what I've always done and I watch both of them doing the same thing. Never sitting back and saying 'that's good enough.'"
Michelle Hicks says her daughter has bypassed her.
"She's learned so much from Grandma Bernie," she said.
"When I fed rabbits, I fed them pellets," said Michelle Hicks, who was in 4-H for 10 years and now is an adult leader. "Meridith will give pellets, hay, supplements. She worms them twice a year, I never wormed them. She knows more about nutrition and diseases. She's like a little vet sometimes."
"You learn responsibility from taking care of your own rabbits," said Meridith Hicks. "You learn qualities you need when you're older."
"Responsibility of taking care of animals is so important," Haberle said. "When you are responsible to a rabbit, you learn a lot about yourself."
And she's still learning, too.
"They're teaching me so much," Haberle said. "I watch Meridith and Michelle. They're such kind people."
Haberle believes strongly that all kids need to be listened to and included.
"Just because a person is quiet and shy doesn't mean they have nothing to say," she said, adding that her daughter and granddaughter have the ability to draw people out and encourage everyone.
Michelle Hicks says it comes naturally because she grew up with it.
"I saw so much love and support from our parents and it makes it easier to do the same for our kids," she said, adding that her mother took her and her three siblings to nursing homes with their rabbits to visit the residents. "Mom was fantastic; she cares about others," said Michelle Hicks. "She's definitely someone I always look up to. She's a role model to me, so respectful and honoring of other people."