Posted: April 4, 2012, 7:30 p.m. EDT
© Gina Cioli/BowTie
Rabbits are more complicated pets than some people expect.
The Easter Rabbit has been associated with Easter for hundreds of years. But the practice of giving live rabbits as gifts for Easter is something operators of rabbit rescues want people to rethink. It’s not that people shouldn’t get rabbits, but people who don’t research and know what to expect from a pet rabbit should stop before making an impulse purchase. Why? Because those rabbits usually end up being surrendered to a rabbit rescue — or worse.
Caroline Charland, president of the Bunny Bunch in Montclair, California, said rabbits start being surrendered as early as Easter Day. Charland founded the Bunny Bunch in 1984.
At Magic Happens Rabbit Rescue in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, founder and director Wendy Lincoln has also noticed a trend in rabbit surrenders during the rescue’s nearly 10 years of operation. “Immediately following Easter we hear the ‘Their grandmother bought it for them and we just don’t have time for it’ story,” Lincoln said. “Then a month or so later, we hear ‘It won’t let my children hold it anymore’ as the rabbits hit puberty. About three to four months after Easter, we get entire litters from families who were told they had purchased two same-sex rabbits.”
Lincoln added that a lack of education and time factor into why people surrender rabbits. “When parents are tired of nagging the children to clean the cage or are tired of cleaning up after the bunny themselves, we get the phone calls to surrender,” she said. “Rarely do we get the call or email asking how to make it more manageable. By the time they call, they’re so overwhelmed that they don’t want to try anymore.”
Tim Patino, president/volunteer at Great Lakes Rabbit Sanctuary in Whittaker, Michigan, said his rabbit rescue typically starts getting calls and emails the day after Easter, and these usually involve bunnies being released into the wild. GLRS started in 1995.
“People will call and say there is a domestic, small rabbit under their porch or behind their garage, concerned because they have dogs and/or cats that would just do what animals do when they discover these helpless little creatures,” Patino said. These are true rescue situations, but then the surrenders start. “The Easter rush begins late May and June when the baby rabbit is no longer that little handheld bunny anymore,” he said. “When the novelty wears off, many will at least try to do the right thing and surrender to a shelter but many others just don’t care enough and release the animal wherever they see fit.”
Get To Know Rabbits
Education is really the key to combating this situation. And many rabbit rescues and enthusiasts have been working hard to reach the public. Efforts like the Make Mine Chocolate campaign and the Easter Page on the House Rabbit Society website are two examples.
“We started promoting chocolate or toy rabbits for Easter instead of a real one over 10 years ago now,” Charland said. The Bunny Bunch also creates fliers for people to print and distribute to help educate people about rabbits and has a program where people can buy a chocolate bunny, with proceeds going toward the care of the rabbits at the Bunny Bunch.
Are these efforts to prevent impulse rabbit purchases around Easter working? “We do hear people referring to [promoting chocolate or toy rabbits] around Easter time and also there is a lot more awareness now,” Charland said.
Lincoln believes the message has reached mostly the younger generation. “Those who frequent Facebook see much of the campaigning, but those well-meaning older relatives don’t see the message,” she said. “In our area we have been fortunate that all the smaller pet stores that used to sell rabbits have closed or quit selling rabbits, and when people call their stores inquiring where to purchase rabbits, they are often directed to us where we can do some education.”
Patino thinks progress might have been made, but it likely hasn’t reached the right people — the impulse buyers. “If you pay attention to the campaign effort that pets as gifts are a bad idea, it might be due to fact you thought about it,” he said. “Impulse at Easter is solely driven by advertising and media, with no disclaimers that [a cute rabbit] is a commitment and a real-life responsibility.”
Who Should Get A Rabbit?
If impulse-buyers are not the people who should own a pet rabbit, who is? “Understanding, patient people are always a plus!” Patino said. “House rabbits, although domesticated animals, still have unique needs you may not have considered. Chewing, digging, running, hiding and territorial issues are all things rabbits do and need to do. When these things do happen the rabbit owner needs to understand the need and supply alternatives. Sharing a home with any animal needs compromising, and rabbits are no exception.”
Lincoln believes any family can find a rabbit to match their lifestyle and personality. “A family must be willing to devote some time to let the rabbit roam in a bunny-proofed area,” she said. “A busy family can choose an older, mellow pair or group of bunnies and give them a large area if they aren’t home often to spend a lot of time with the rabbits.”
Charland said a person must love rabbits and be willing to give them proper living quarters indoors. Having hay and some bun poop on the floor or having some furniture or other items chewed a bit shouldn’t bother a rabbit owner too much. The home should be quieter and be rabbit-proofed. Charland also warned about high veterinary bills. In addition to all this, she said the ideal rabbit owner is: “Someone who has time to spend with a rabbit or two, and someone who is willing to care for them for ten years plus.”
Charland said the Bunny Bunch gets contacted every day by people wanting to give up a pet rabbit because it wasn’t what they expected. Below is her checklist of what people should know about rabbits. She encourages people to wait until Easter is over and do their research before getting a rabbit.
n Rabbits are harder and more expensive to care for than cats and dogs.
n Rabbits should never live in a child’s room, or in a cage or hutch.
n Rabbits need to live indoors with AC in most places during the summer.
n Rabbits are not a cuddly animal and don’t like to be picked up.
n Rabbits are not good animals for children.
n Rabbits are a big commitment.
n Rabbits do much better in pairs.
n Rabbits must be spayed or neutered to prevent breeding; rabbits that live alone still need to be spayed or neutered to prevent health and behavioral issues.
If Not For Easter, Then When?
The answer to when someone should get a rabbit depends on the person or family. Charland, Lincoln and Patino all said that taking time to learn all about pet rabbits, meeting the rabbits’ needs and making a commitment to the rabbits are all crucial.
“Adopting families should think about what they want out of a rabbit before adopting,” Lincoln said. “We encourage meet-and-greets to see how a rabbit matches with a family as well as how children react to a rabbit. Sometimes, after holding a rabbit that you’ve seen a photo of online, it can be difficult not to take it home. Our adoption application asks what personality traits would they like to see in a rabbit, such as a snuggler, a companion for another rabbit or interactive. We try to match their new bunny with their top personality choice. If the biggest thing they are looking for is outgoing, then we steer them toward rabbits who are known for hopping up to people at adoption day. If they are looking to adopt a bunny for their children to sit and snuggle with, we talk about holding vs. sitting on the couch and petting, and focus on rabbits who are mellow and are more inclined to be a couch potato for a massage session.”
Once someone does all these things, any time can be the right time. Well, almost any time.
“Ideally the family should be able to have time to commit to litter box-training and getting-to-know-you time,” Lincoln said. “So before finals week, a big vacation or a major holiday with family members over would not be the best time.”
Patino offered similar advice. “[It’s] best if you’re able to spend time with the rabbits as they get acclimated to their new home and welcome them while observing what they are interested in and what needs they may have,” he said. “Can they get to their food? Is there something scaring them or maybe an area that needs to be restricted until bunny-proofing can be done? ‘Never rush into bringing an animal home’ is a good rule of paw!”
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