AN animal lover who has devoted the last 15 years to rescuing rabbits has won through to the final of a national awards scheme.

Gwen Butler, owner of Bunny Burrows rescue centre, in Richmond, North Yorkshire, has made the shortlist for the animal enthusiast of the year category at the Animal Hero Awards 2013.

Mrs Butler will find out if she has won the award at a prestigious ceremony hosted by television celebrity Amanda Holden at the Langham Hotel, in London, later this month.

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Mrs Butler said the nomination came as a “total surprise”.

“I’m still in shock,” she said.

“I’d come back from a friend’s house and there was an answer phone message – at first I thought it was a con.

“I’m going to have to go on a train for the first time in 40 years – I’m not sure if I’m excited about the awards or scared.”

Mrs Butler was nominated for the award by her friend, Audrey Simpson, from Shildon, who will be travelling with her to London to attend the ceremony.

Mrs Simpson said: “Gwen does fantastic work and doesn’t get the recognition she deserves.

“She is such a stalwart for the charity which she runs. She never has a holiday and the animals are her pride and joy.”

Mrs Butler and her late husband John adopted their first rabbit in 1997. She has since cared for and re-homed hundreds of rabbits and guinea pigs.

She said the problem of abandoned and badly treated bunnies was now worse than ever.

“The hardest thing at the moment is saying no to all the requests for help.

“I would need an aircraft hangar if I was to say yes.”

The Animal Hero Awards are organised by the RSPCA and the Daily Mirror.