Finn the Holland Lop is one busy rabbit. In addition to being a campus mini-celebrity and the face of the @bigredbun Instagram account, he is the certified emotional support animal to owner Erin Scannell ’21.
The duo has been together since February 2019, Scannell’s sophomore year, when she created the Big Red Bun account. After nearly 400 photos of Finn, the almost two-year-old account has reached more than 5,000 followers.
According to Scannell, Finn flipped around her Cornell experience, boosting her mental health and helping her find a community.
“He’s greatly improved my life at Cornell. After I made the Big Red Bun account, I was like, ‘This is what I was here to do,’” Scannell said. “He’s given me a little community and I get to feel like he’s my emotional support animal, but he can also be so many other peoples’.”
As a sophomore transfer, Scannell said she struggled with depression and anxiety. Placed in a single on West Campus, she felt extremely lonely, and to feel less isolated, often slept on the couch at the co-ed fraternity she joined.
Scannell said she contacted the housing department in November 2018 asking to move out of her single — but she was met with a resounding “no.”
“I’ve never been more let down by Cornell than when I talked to them and they said, ‘I’m sorry this is not my issue and we will not be able to release you from your contract,’” Scannell said. “They didn’t steer me in the direction of mental health resources or anything like that.”
According to Scannell, Cornell Housing wouldn’t budge, and explained that other students had more significant reasons for moving out. So Scannell decided she was going to buy a rabbit to keep her company.
“I was having really bad panic attacks. I hated Cornell. It was way too hard. I didn’t have a support system,” Scannell said. “So he was my little support system.”
When she first got Finn, Scannell didn’t like to tell others that she had anxiety or depression. But having Finn has made her more vocal about the topic, and more willing to share her own story.
She now sees Finn as a mental health advocate and strives to make her account a platform for mental health awareness. For example, in November, Scannell teamed up with Cornell EARS in honor of #MentalHealthMonday to provide students with a list of resources they could use if they were struggling and needed help.
“I used to not be [vocal], but now the older I’m getting the more I’m becoming very comfortable talking about my own mental health,” Scannell said. “It’s really helpful to other people to listen to where you are and show there’s not really this big stigma around it.”
And she feels like it’s important to use Finn’s platform for good — whether it’s reducing mental health stigma or encouraging people to wear masks.
At first just consisting of a small following of her friends, the account has since gradually picked up steam. Now, Big Red Bun is known throughout the Cornell community, even among Ithaca locals.
“Ever since Cornell reshared Finn’s pictures, things really picked up. I gained 1,000 followers in a day. And the official Cornell Instagram follows Finn now which is crazy,” Scannell said. “If you say, ‘Big Red Bun’ anywhere on campus, one person is going to be like, ‘I know who that is.’”
Now, Scannell’s goal is to post to the Big Red Bun Instagram account every day so that people can look forward to seeing Finn on their feed.
In addition to the daily posts, taking care of a rabbit is a fair amount of work, Scannell said. She feeds Finn in the morning before classes, which means if she has an 8 a.m. class, she has to plan on getting up an extra few minutes early. But Scannell said he is more than worth the extra work, because having a pet to come home to helps her unwind and destress, and having something else to take care of gives her a reason to take care of herself, too.
The account’s most popular post to date is from Scannell’s first semester with Finn, May 2019. The photo, which received 3,216 likes, shows Finn happily munching on a flower petal. The caption reads, “Time to start stress eating before finals.”
But Scannell doesn’t use any fancy equipment. Instead, she takes the images on her iPhone 8 and edits them in VSCO. She’s picky about the pictures, wanting each one to be perfect, and so she’s willing to lie on the ground to get the best shot.
Because Finn has an outgoing and curious personality, Scannell often takes him on outings to get some fresh air or visit iconic Cornell spots like the clocktower and the Slope. “He always poses, which is the funniest thing. Everybody loves to watch how he knows that he is having a picture taken of him and he will pose,” Scannell said.
Scannell herself prefers to stay behind the scenes, and as a result there isn’t a single picture of her on the Instagram page.
“It’s not about me, I guess. It’s about him. Nobody wants to see a picture of me, that’s not what people signed up for, and I’m very self conscious when it comes to the pictures of myself, so I like posing him instead,” Scannell explained.
Instead, she wants to reach people and interact with them on Finn’s posts, one of her favorite aspects of the account — which has a reach of around 13,200 accounts in a given week.
“I don’t know most of the people who follow the account, but I love how I recognize them. They’re like, ‘Oh, I hope you’re feeling better,’ or like, ‘Oh, Finn looks great here,’” Scannell said.
Finn’s direct messages are often filled with questions about the animal science program, prospective transfers, new Cornellians or even people who are interested in getting a pet bunny. Answering these questions and offering advice contributes to what Scannell sees as the purpose of the account: to brighten other people’s days.
“I always really hope the takeaway is a little bit of joy to put in your day, a little bit of happiness,” Scannell said, “because that’s always been my main goal.”