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16-year-old Entrepreneur Caleb Smith discusses "Peacebunny Island"

It All Began With Snickers

Caleb Smith was only eight years old when he lost his first pet bunny Snickers. His heart was broken but he eventually adopted again. During his search for a new bunny, Caleb couldn’t believe how many were unwanted in his area alone. Many families buy a bunny but when the reality of ownership sets in, they’re no longer interested and take the animal to a shelter. Caleb decided to take action and help the animals, but he had to convince his parents first. One of his favorite shows, Shark Tank, taught him that to convince someone to join your business plan, you have to “sell it". Caleb put on his best church suit and came up with a business plan. The goal was to get his parents to join him in saving the bunnies. At first, they started small by adopting three rescue bunnies. Then, Caleb began holding small events like birthday parties where his bunnies were there for everyone to pet. When the director of the nearby Wood Lake Nature Center asked Caleb to host birthday parties where he would present a short educational program, it changed everything. Caleb explains, “One of those first Wood Lake birthday parties led to an invitation to the Richfield community egg hunt, which resulted in a stream of events.”   

Hugs, Hope & Hoppiness 

As Caleb adopted more bunnies and held more events, his schedule became overwhelming. He needed space for the bunnies and had the idea of an island. One day, he sat at the computer and looked up islands. While his search continued for a few years, he found a farm nearby to lease where he keeps the bunnies named Peacebunny Cottage. Eventually, Caleb found a private 22-acre island on the Mississippi River and bought a 43-foot houseboat to transport them to the island which is nearly100 miles away. Peacebunny Island is a sanctuary for the bunnies, but they don’t live on the island full-time. It’s a place where they can spend time training which starts with Caleb getting them comfortable with human touch, being put in wagons, hammocks, etc. 

To keep the island a natural and sustainable oasis, Caleb doesn’t intend to develop the island into a tourist destination. However, he is raffling off tickets for people to win a visit to the island on his website

A typical day for Caleb consists of making sure the rabbits are fed and loved and holding educational events like Bunny Bootcamp, STEM bunnies, and Bunny 101-E where people learn how to care for bunnies, etc.  

The Ministry of Presence 

After the mass shooting at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut, Caleb’s parents wanted to help that community. They had long been volunteers for disaster relief. So, they took Caleb, who was only in second grade, with them and volunteered to go help. During their visit, Caleb noticed the comfort that service dogs offered for those grieving. 

After visiting a local park with a bunny garden that was decorated with bunny statues, Caleb had an idea he shared with his mom. He said, “In my bunny garden, the bunnies will be like therapy dogs. They will be real and not just statues. The bunnies can help people who are lonely or hurting. And if the people aren’t lonely or hurting, the bunnies will make their day even happier.” 

Caleb learned while watching others go through tragedy that having someone with them makes a huge difference. He calls this the ministry of presence. Shortly after returning from the Sandy Hook school shooting tragedy, Caleb shared with his church part of a prayer he wrote in his journal. He prayed, “Dear God. Hi, it’s me, Caleb...Help us see people the way You see them. Help us to love them how You love us. Help us take care of each other and to stop hurting each other...” Today, Caleb is doing his part by not only saving bunnies but allowing them to save us in return.

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