Angela Lyons loves bunnies.
Holding a not-yet 3-week-old lilac (think soft gray), mini rex bunny about the size of her fist, Lyons asks, "If you could keep them this small, could you imagine? Everybody would want one.
"Rabbits don't get the visibility like dogs and cats do, and I think they are way easier to take care of."
As a child growing up in Pennsylvania, Lyons and her five siblings received bunnies each Easter. The doe (female) and buck (male) were white rabbits with pink eyes. They were kept in the barn where they would have a litter. Sometimes she'd sneak her Easter gift inside to sleep with it, but by summer they'd be gone -- her father took them to the butcher.
When someone calls wanting meat rabbits, she refers them on.
"I don't want anyone eating my babies," she said.
The Pennsylvania bunnies didn't have it near as nice as the show rabbits Lyons has as pets now.
Rabbits live five to nine years. Lyons keeps hers comfortable in the summer with an evaporative cooler and, on especially hot days, she provides them with frozen bottles of water. Rabbits don't sweat, so 85 degrees is too hot.
"I had always wanted an Angora rabbit," Lyons said. She had seen one in a movie, with its hair braided.
So, she started out a few years ago with an Angora.
At rabbit shows she would see a new breed or color and buy it.
She has a dozen rabbits, mostly purchased at shows. She's only kept five of the baby rabbits her herd has produced, selling or giving away the rest.
Baby bunnies come out of their hay-lined boxes (called nests) at the age of 2 to 3 weeks, but they really can't stay outside their boxes during cold nights.
"That's why I move my mommies, when they deliver in winter, into the garage. The babies might be nursing and attached to the mother and when she stands up they'll go with her. If they are outside the box in the garage they will survive."
Each of Lyons' three children -- Rachel, Morgan and Jason -- fall in love with the baby rabbits when they arrive. However, they lose interest when the bunnies grow up and become less manageable. Lyons encourages her children to hold and play with the bunnies because it socializes them.
There are 46 breeds recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association. Some of the ones Lyons has are Angora, Holland lop and mini rex (think Velveteen Rabbit).
Her lion-head male, Snort, has a mane like a lion and a "skirt" around him. The ARBA is in the process of setting standards for the breed, determining if it should have a single coat mane or a double coat mane, Lyons said.
Showing rabbits is just like showing dogs, she said.
Robin, a male red mini rex won Reserve in Show (next down from Best in Show) at September's Northern Gila County Fair.
As November comes to a close, Lyons' pets seem content to play in the rabbit-proofed back yard. They don't seem to be interested in digging and tunneling through the artificial turf. And there is little chance the pets can become friendly with wild rabbits. The fence is set 18 inches deep.
The Lyons family also has two terrier dogs.
"Chloe saved a bunny from Coconut," said Lyons.
"There's a bunny out in the garage that is blind in one eye (it has a cataract), and I heard these two dogs growling, fighting over something. I came out and they were in the yard and Chloe is guarding this baby bunny."
The baby rabbit had wriggled out of the nest box, squeezed through the wire of the cage and fallen to the concrete floor.
Lyons nursed it back to health with an eyedropper.
When Lyons isn't busy raising her own children and her pets, or operating Class Cleaners, she is a Girl Scout leader for a troop of juniors, and is on Payson's foster care review board.
"I'm out here at midnight cleaning pens," she said laughing. "It's the only thing in my life I don't complain about."