OWATONNA — In her own words, it was a “bittersweet year” at the Steele County Free Fair for 4-H’er Marisa Wagaman, 18, of Medford.
Though she did well in poultry and will be taking a swine to the state fair, it’s what she’s not coming home with that makes her sad — her rabbit.
And the rabbit — a Holland Lop by the name of Smokey — was a special rabbit.
“He was the oddball of the litter,” Wagaman described Smokey. “He was different colors and the smallest.”
But she parlayed Smokey’s unusual, if not unique, qualities into a prize winner. Last year, when she was showing as a junior, Wagaman took Smokey all the way to the state fair where he made the final lineup.
This year, with Smokey being shown as a hopping bunny rather than a breeding rabbit, Smokey was crowned “Super Bunny.” And Wagaman hoped to show Smokey next year, her final year as a 4-H’er, as a breeding rabbit.
That hope may all be for naught, however. Smokey is missing and feared stolen.
“I may not have the opportunity to show him again, and that makes me sad,” Wagaman said.
Smokey’s absence from the rabbit barn on the fairgrounds was first noticed Friday evening. Wagaman was busy with some chores at the swine barn and her mother went to check on Smokey.
But when she got there and looked for the rabbit in its cage, Smokey was nowhere to be found. Her mother came back and told Wagaman, who dropped what she was doing and went running to the cage where Smokey was supposed to be.
Sure enough, though the cage was still latched, the rabbit was gone.
“It was the saddest moment of my life,” Wagaman said.
Tracy Ignaszewski, a program coordinator for the Steele County 4-H, declined to speculate on whether the rabbit was taken or got loose in some other fashion. However, she noted that there were no holes in the cage and the cage was latched.
“It’s very odd,” she said, adding that to her knowledge, this has never happened before.
For her part, Wagaman thinks someone took Smokey, which she finds difficult to understand.
“4-H is a great program,” she said, “and you work hard for months, sometimes years, to get an animal ready to show. And you put a lot of effort into finding that one special one.”
Smokey, she believed, was that one special rabbit. And for him to go missing is that much more difficult
She does acknowledge that there’s the possibility that somehow Smokey got out of his cage and therefore may still be around the area.
“If he’s hopping around and someone would see it, report it. Tell someone about it,” she said. “He’s domesticated and relies on people to take care of him.”
As for next year, Wagaman said she may start doing things differently.
“I might have to start locking the cages,” she said.
A reward is being offered for Smokey’s safe return.