It was the hoppiest of adventures.
In early April, Howard Wu packed up his rescue dog, Aponte, and his special needs bunny, Juniper, and hit the road for a three-week car trip.
The journey was a mixture of business and pleasure. Traveling from New York to New Orleans and back, along a windy path — with stops in Georgia, the state Aponte was born in, and lots of other states along the way — the trio would be visiting friends and doing some sightseeing.
Howard was also checking out a few animal shelters. He’s in the process of opening a shelter for Animal Rescue of Queens, the rescue group he founded, and he wanted “to learn and incorporate the best practices that others have learned” into his organization.
Aponte, adopted in 2010, was brought along because he “is amazing,” says Howard. “He is always up for adventure, but he also is very calm and patient in the car.”
Howard loves finding dogs parks, beaches, hikes, and all sorts of other attractions to enjoy with his dog.
Juniper is a bit of a different story.
The rabbit — also adopted in 2010 — has a neurological impairment stemming from a parasite that entered his brain when he was a baby.
Mr. Bunny has bad balance and isn’t very energetic, due to his condition — and he doesn’t seem to enjoy being carried around too much. Howard also has to be very careful when they are — for example — out on a picnic.
I have to pick very flat surfaces for him. One time, I didn’t and he tumbled into a ditch. Thankfully, got caught up by tall grass, otherwise, he might’ve been swept into a sewer line.
But Juniper seemed to perk up on previous outings; being in a new environment also seems to improve his mobility.
According to Howard:
I think sometimes stress, within limits, forces us to deal with hardship and we come out stronger in the end. I was hoping this would be the case with Juniper.
So Howard found pet sitters for his other pets — a snake, turtle, cat, and another dog who hates being in the car — and set out with his adorable copilots.
There’s been many great moments along the way. The standout: seeing Noah’s Ark — the Georgia sanctuary that is home to the famous BLT, a trio of bear-lion-tiger best friends.
Howard does not expect to be housing many bears, lions, or tigers at the shelter he’s planning. He says he still found inspiration in the sanctuary’s “openness to visitors” — and intends to bring that quality to his own operation.
And while Juniper relaxed in the hotel room — Howard thinks he’d have enjoyed meeting the sanctuary’s rescue bunnies, but it wasn’t to be — Aponte got to come along to Noah’s Ark, and enjoyed saying hello to two wolves through a fence.
But in general, the highlights were watching Juniper outdoors on picnics and seeing Aponte and great people, strangers, with happiness. He’s never been that fond of people, but these trips seem to bring out an openness and trust in him. So it’s so nice watching him greet complete strangers that he might not normally at home.
Juniper, too, became rejuvenated in just the ways that Howard had been hoping for.
The three have shared motel rooms, and meals, and explored the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and other magical, gorgeous spots along the way.
Sometime treats were just for one member of the party. Like this crawfish-over-kibble, found in New Orleans, was just for Aponte, since Howard is a vegetarian. (The champagne, of course, was for Howard alone.)
Sleeping in bed, too, is mostly a solo affair — since Aponte almost always refuses to share a bed and Juniper is too small and fragile for that kind of closeness.
“Also,” says Howard, “rabbits are supposed to eat pretty much all the time, so unless I slept in hay for him to eat, he’d starve by the end of the night.”
Of course, every journey has its end. And Howard is excited to return home soon to his New York City-based 500-square-foot apartment and its many-specied inhabitants. (He swears, it’s roomy enough for all.)
He thinks Aponte and Juniper are ready to go home now, too — back to their routines, back to their other companions, back to Juniper (and Howard) having a readier supply of fresh salads and fruits.
The trip may live on, though. First, through the Animal Rescue of Queens shelter — which Howard is extremely optimistic will open sometime this year. (Keep tabs on ARQ’s Facebook page.)
Plus, in the three-week road trip, these three guys met lots of people — many of whom asked questions and took selfies of themselves with Howard and his animals. One such woman told Howard that meeting him, the bunny, and the dog was the highlight of her trip.
Howard hasn’t found any of those snaps online yet, but he suspects that someone’s Instagram page has documentation of Juniper, Aponte, and himself, having a picnic, or checking into a motel, or going out sightseeing.
He suspects it’s probably tagged “crazy animal nutter.” He’s ok with that.