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    COVID Diaries: How Nia's fostered rabbit is having a bigger impact than she ever imagined

    8 May 2020

    Harper students up and down the country are doing their bit to help their local communities through the hardships of Covid-19. Whether farming, distributing PPE or checking in on vulnerable neighbours, we’re proud of all the Harper community are doing.

    One of these many students is Nia Ball, a second year BSc (Hons) Veterinary Nursing with Small Animal Rehabilitation student from North Wales. While her current work is a little different to most, its impact is wide reaching and bringing joy during a difficult time.

    Nia traced her story to the very beginning, explaining how circumstances have come together for her to be able to help others in the pandemic. She said: “I started volunteering at Bryn y Maen RSPCA, North Wales, when I was only 10 years old. Being there was the highlight of my week and I always looked forward to going.

    “I never had pets as my parents and sister were strongly against it and, in all fairness, we did enjoy travelling, so looking back it wouldn’t have been suitable. Volunteering was a brilliant way for me to interact with animals and learn so much about them.

    “I definitely learned more from 10 years’ experience volunteering at the RSPCA than I would have learned from 10 years of having a pet. I mainly volunteered in the Small Animal Unit with rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets and all sorts of rodents and birds; and I spent some time socialising and walking dogs from the kennels as well.”

    As time became more precious due to academic demands, Nia had to make a choice. She commented: “I have always found exams stressful and it was difficult to find time during GCSEs to go to the RSPCA due to the hour and a half round trip.

    “During my first year of A levels, I decided I wanted to foster rabbits. This would allow me to still have interactions with animals, but in my own home. It enabled me to still help the RSPCA and the rabbits never fail to make me smile, even with a lot of exams and assignments.”

    Nia has remained committed to fostering rabbits, even through university. She said: “It’s now been four years since I started fostering and I’ve had a total of 19 rabbits. Fostering is the most rewarding process ever.

    “I love volunteering, but the one-to-one attention that the rabbits get at home really helps them. They come to me aggressive, territorial or just petrified of people due to their awful start to life. Within days of being with me they are happy animals and they begin to trust me and this is the most rewarding part. My ultimate goal is to get them ready for finding a permanent home and I really enjoy having updates from their owners once they are in those homes.

    “Fostering is flexible and it’s something I look forward to doing when I’m home from uni. If I go on holiday the rabbit can go back to the centre and if I find I have a month at home I can phone the RSPCA and ask if any rabbit needs fostering and they always have someone there!”

    Having arrived home after the travel restrictions came into play, Nia made the decision to pick up a new furry friend on her way back. This rabbit has had a far greater impact than Nia could have ever imagined!

    Nia explained: “My current foster rabbit is Mr Darcy, who was abandoned in a box with 10 other rabbits. He was understandably very nervous, especially around people. I collected him from the RSPCA on my way home from university, before lockdown came into place, and I am so glad that I have him during these uncertain times. He has been with me now for 6 weeks.

    “From Darcy’s point of view his life is much better. But during lockdown, a lot has changed for us people.  Darcy definitely doesn’t realise how much he’s helping others. He keeps me company and keeps me entertained.”

    The little rabbit has not only helped Nia, but those she has shared him with. She said: “I don’t think I fully appreciated what he did for us until I had a parcel through the post. Inside the box - that Darcy now loves to jump into - were a big box of chocolates and a note that read: To Nia (and Darcy), Thanks for all the brilliant photos and Darcy news which cheers all of us up, everyday. Love, the Darcy WhatsApp friends.

    “Every morning, I send a picture or a video to a colleague of Dad’s with some update of what Darcy’s been up to. She then sends it to a WhatsApp group. This includes a 14-year-old boy who lives in a flat in Barcelona and who has not been able to go outside for 5 weeks, A&E doctors from Sheffield, a judge from New York and other people who are struggling during the pandemic. Little Darcy brightens people’s day around Europe and he even reaches America! He’s an absolute superstar!”

    Nia was quite overcome about the impact her foster rabbit has had, feeling fulfilled that her work has helped over to find a bit of happiness in a difficult time. While she acknowledges that fostering and adopting rabbits is a lot more work than people are generally aware of, Nia would not swap the experience she has had with all of her rabbits.

    Working to foster rabbits is one of the reasons Nia chose to come to Harper Adams. She commented: “Having first hand experience of this importance of rehabilitation, I knew the course at Harper was for me. I am very much a practical person and the hands on tutorials caters for this.

    “Equally, having access to the Small Animal Unit was important to me; seeing that the animals were well looked after and having opportunities to work with the rabbits was an exciting prospect. A little lop rabbit named Mango was my favourite, who I remember from Open Day and from my interview day, and he was on my priority list to go and visit!”

    For those also looking to attend Harper Adams and work with small animals, Nia offered her advice: “I would simply say, “Go for it!” - I love the university and the support we get from our lecturers is incredible. There are loads of animals and there is plenty of hands on experience. And, if you like rabbits, there are some very cute ones in the Small Animal Unit!”

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