Hare-raising hobby

Mary and Al Crume with a rabbit blanket and stuffed animal, just a couple of items from their collection.
Mary and Al Crume with a rabbit blanket and stuffed animal, just a couple of items from their collection. The Tribune

Just like the real thing, Mary Crume’s rabbit collection has a tendency to multiply.

What began 25 years ago with a few bunny mugs has grown to more than 550 rabbit-related items ranging from baby carriages to birdbaths to bookends.

“I’ve got such a variety I can’t even keep track of most of them,” the Paso Robles woman said. “I keep losing count.”

A retired phone company employee, Crume has been collecting rabbits since the 1980s. Naturally, the Easter season offers the most opportunities for bunny hunting, she said.

“This is the time of year you’ll always find me out shopping,” Crume said with a laugh.

Mary Crume traces her rabbit collection to 1986, when she and her husband, Al, started raising sighthounds — hunting dogs bred for their speed, agility and endurance. Popular breeds include Afghan hounds, greyhounds and whippets.

According to Crume, “lure coursing” competitions typically feature the hounds chasing after an artificial lure known as a “bunny.” Bunny-shaped coffee cups are typically given out as prizes.

“That actually started it,” she explained.

When the Crumes moved from Tracy to Paso Robles in 2003, following Al’s retirement from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, their collection came with them.

Today, their North County home is hopping with rabbits.

Terracotta rabbits cavort in the front and back yards amidst bunny-themed birdbaths, sundials and shepherd crooks. Bunny wind chimes dangle from mulberry branches. Inside, each room features its own furry residents.

There are bunny-shaped butter dishes, chocolate molds and cake pans in the kitchen, a rabbit paperweight and tape dispenser in the office. Hunting targets and advertisements hang in the den where the couple’s dogs — two big-eared Ibizans named Rose and Cher, and a silky Saluki named Jain — spend much of their time.

In the living room, rabbits range from the juvenile — baby carriages, piggy banks, stuffed animals and windup toys — to the adult. Mary Crume’s most prized possessions include aluminum Arthur Court rabbits that double as wine coolers and an ice bucket, respectively.

“You know you’ve gotten into rabbits when your china cabinet becomes a rabbit hutch,” Al Crume joked, noting one such cabinet that contains rabbit-headed drinking horns, miniature tea cup sets and grass-green dishes with playful rabbits racing around the rims.

Mary Crume’s collection even extends to a cute hairbrush and hand mirror shaped like rabbits’ heads.

“How many girls actually can say they have a ‘hare’ brush?” she asked with a chuckle.

According to Mary Crume, her vast collection includes rabbits of every size, shape and material — from real rabbit fur to volcanic ash collected from Mount St. Helens.

Al Crume doesn’t mind his wife’s bunny obsession, he said. In fact, it originally made gift giving a snap.

“(Now) my husband will see something in the store and say, ‘Do you have this already?’ ” said Mary Crume, who has acquired most of her treasures through antique stores, gift shops and eBay. “I’ll say, ‘Yeah. I’ve got it.’”

She has just one rule: The rabbits must look as realistic as possible.

“I don’t want Bugs Bunny,” she said. “If you want cartoon rabbits They’re a dime a dozen. You can find them anywhere.”

Asked if she’d ever add a live bunny to her collection, Crume said, “I’ve got dogs that chase rabbits. That would be kind of cruel.”

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