by: PHOTO BY DICK TRTEK - Happy Rock Hoppers' rabbits make their way through the agility course at the Milwaukie Elks Lodge.The Happy Rock Hoppers are ready for their close-up, but for now they’re playing the waiting game.

“We auditioned for ‘America’s Got Talent,’ and are just waiting to hear back from them,” said Tami Ingram, the founder of the group and one of the leaders.

One thing is for sure, the producers of the TV show probably have not received many audition tapes featuring rabbits hopping their way through an agility course, which is the specialty of the Gladstone group.

Ingram founded the group three years ago with Dave Kane, who has since died. It is part of the Clackamas County 4-H program.

“He was one of my residents at Somerset. He had been a softball coach, but was confined to a wheelchair, so this was a way for him to interact with kids,” Ingram said.

There are 10 children who train their rabbits to hop through the agility course, which Ingram described as similar to a dog-agility course, only lower to the ground.

And there is no food involved in the training. Instead the bunnies respond best to hugs and kisses when they do a good job.

“We assist them through the course the first couple of times. The rabbits watch the others, and it’s like monkey see-monkey do. Some bunnies are so excited when they see the course they want to jump out of our arms — they are raring to go,” Ingram said.

The colorful agility course features obstacles the rabbits need to jump over or go under, along with tunnel-like structures that they go through.

“Rabbits are very affectionate and have a vocabulary of about 25 words, so when they do well, we tell them they did a good job,” Ingram said.

Responsible ownership

What she likes best about the Happy Rock Hoppers is seeing the children interact with the rabbits. Rabbits need a lot of activity to keep them busy, and this program gets them out of their cages.

Maria Cochran, 13, is involved with the group and said she enjoys the opportunity to connect with Freckles, her English spot bunny.

“We socialize them a lot, so they get used to being around people,” Maria said, after helping Freckles through the agility course during an Easter-themed activity at the Milwaukie Elks Lodge.

Michele Cochran, Maria’s mother, is one of the leaders and had a few words to say about bunny ownership.

“Rabbits are smart like dogs, but people buy them on the spur of the moment because they’re so cute. Then they neglect them and leave them in their cages. People have no idea what they are getting into. Rabbits can live 10 to 15 years,” she said.

Ingram added that another facet of the Happy Rock Hoppers is education.

“We teach responsible bunny ownership and we don’t like to see bunnies for sale at Easter,” she said, noting that the Happy Rock Hoppers is not a rabbit-rescue group.

If the group doesn’t make it onto the TV show, the next opportunity to see the Happy Rock Hoppers in action will be in mid-August at the Clackamas County Fair.

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