An enormous rabbit that has met more than 1,400 students at Taltree Arboretum & Gardens near Valparaiso was put down over the weekend after it got sick.

Big Bunny or Big Bun, a 4-year-old rabbit that weighed more than 16 pounds and lived in a pen in Taltree's children's Adventure Garden, had been ailing since last week. Chad Cronin, Taltree's grounds and facilities manager, decided to end Big Bun's suffering after McAfee Animal Hospital in Valparaiso found it had an illness.

“It’s a sad day for the Taltree family," Cronin said. “The impact this little rabbit had on everyone she encountered was heartwarming. It’s amazing how something so little can have such a big impact.”

Big Bunny was a Giant Chinchilla, a larger-than-normal breed mainly bred for its meat.

Taltree purchased Big Bunny in 2013 to help out with the Education Department’s Conservation in the Classroom program. The dandelion and Swiss chard-chomping rabbit, a favorite of guests to the nonprofit arboretum, met with Scouts and Camp Quercus summer day campers as outreach.

The rabbit also put in time as a therapy animal on the laps of seniors at nursing homes and rehab centers.

“Every week we’d get donations to help because people loved her so much,” Cronin said. “We’re all going to miss her.”

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Business reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.