Junior, the largest rabbit in the US and Army vet's service animal, has died

By STACY PARKER | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: January 9, 2020

NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — The largest rabbit in the United States and Virginia’s official Easter Bunny has crossed the rainbow bridge.

Lord Roland Watson Beldon Maxwell VIII, known affectionately as Junior, was a Continental Giant. He died in November after an illness.

Junior, who weighed 25 pounds and was 3½ feet long, served as an ambassador for rescued exotic animals across the state.

When Angela “Max” Maxwell talks about her beloved rabbit, tears well up in her eyes. Junior was not only the mascot of The Bunny Hutch shelter, he was her service animal. The 56-year-old former body builder and Army veteran was grazed on her face by a sniper bullet while serving in Desert Storm. She rarely went out in public without Junior.

Maxwell first started rehabbing animals in her garage in Newport News, until somebody abandoned an alligator at her door seven years ago.

“My husband drew the line,” she said.

She moved The Bunny Hutch to a warehouse off Birdneck Road in Virginia Beach.

After suffering a broken foot last summer, Maxwell decided in October that she would close The Bunny Hutch and tour the U.S. this spring with Junior, who was going to be a write-in candidate for president.

His campaign slogan: “Adopt, don’t shop.”

But in November, Junior’s health went downhill. Maxwell had been taking him to North Carolina State’s veterinary clinic once a month where students learned from studying him.

Junior had problems with his feet, Maxwell said. They were the size of a woman’s 4½ shoe. His joints were strained, and it wore on him.

“His heart just couldn’t take it,” she said.

He had just turned 5 years old when he died, which is the average lifespan of his breed.

Junior was originally donated to Maxwell as an ambassador for The Bunny Hutch and was the largest rabbit in the U.S. He was the son of King Darius, of England, the world’s longest rabbit, weighing 52 pounds and reaching a length of 4 feet, 6 inches.

The brown rabbit visited festivals and events in Virginia during his lifetime, attracting attention as he scooted in a fenced pen. He dressed for every occasion, sporting a presidential tie and black rimmed glasses in the early days of his political campaign. Junior wore a wig for a drag event and camouflage for each branch of the military. He owned a skydiving helmet and had been known to carry a surfboard. He also wore a fire helmet because he was an honorary fire chief.

Maxwell keeps all of Junior’s costumes neatly packed in a box with his ashes, which she hopes to spread at his favorite park.

Before she closed The Bunny Hutch on the last day of 2019, she was able to adopt out or place all of the other animals in zoos around the country, except for one.

Shio, a male red fox that isn’t red. His marble fur pattern is gray and white.

Maxwell will continue to rehabilitate animals, one at a time, and she’s looking for a new ambassador animal.

Shio’s a possible candidate. Problem is, he’s a bit skittish around new people.

Maxwell is training him to use a harness, but if going out in public stresses him too much, he will be placed in a nearby protected natural area, she said.

The shelter’s “Love” sign will be donated to the Virginia Beach Animal Care and Adoption Center. The "o" in “Love” is a chocolate bunny head with ears. It’s designed to encourage parents to buy candy instead of live animals at Easter.

Maxwell still plans to travel the country this spring after she has surgery on her foot. She’ll bring a laminated portrait of Junior with her so that his followers on social media can see all of the places he’s “traveled,” like the children’s book character Flat Stanley.

“Junior’s memory will live on,” she said.


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