This familiar tune signals Spring, a time of re-birth and renewal, but, for rabbit rescue groups across the United States, the tune is a harbinger of dread. Every year, well-intentioned parents succumb to their children’s pleas for a bunny without fully considering the needs of these fragile creatures. Within a few short months, the rabbits they’ve purchased to delight their children have become hormonal, mischievous adolescents, and many parents find themselves at wit’s end. Often, children have lost interest or have come to fear their rabbit after being scratched or nipped. Household furnishings may be beginning to show the signs of bunny-inflicted damage. Frequently, parents discover that they or their children are allergic to rabbits, hay, or both.
Regardless, come summer, animal shelters and rabbit rescue groups are deluged with young, unwanted rabbits, surrendered through no fault of their own. Some will eventually find homes, but the majority will be euthanized. There simply are not enough homes to absorb the annual influx of discarded Easter bunnies. Across the country, thousands will face death before they’ve even seen their first birthday. Others will be relegated to an outdoor hutch to live out their lives in boredom and loneliness, discomfort from the extremes of the elements, and fear of animal predators passing by.
Rabbits can be charming companion animals, but it is wise to consider some basic facts before deciding to bring a bunny into one’s family. A well-kept rabbit enjoying a stimulating, indoor environment can live a decade or longer. They thrive upon the social aspect of living with humans, and these obsessively-clean animals can easily be trained to use a litter box. Rabbits can coexist happily with cats and dogs, though the introductory period must be closely supervised. Children must learn to behave appropriately with these fragile prey animals, who can be injured by improper handling or become irreparably traumatized if chased or improperly handled.
A potential caregiver must accept that rabbits must chew to keep their teeth from becoming overgrown, and they will not discriminate between the cardboard boxes and discarded telephone books you offer…or the legs of your expensive furniture or the kids’ school books. Living with a rabbit requires compromise, so parents need to master bunny-proofing just as they did with toddler-proofing. In addition, rabbits are not ‘cheap’ or low-maintenance pets—their daily requirements include fresh greens and unlimited, high-quality hay and regular grooming, especially during their seasonal shedding periods. Though rabbits do not require inoculations, they should be examined annually by a veterinarian who specializes in exotics. Finally, to ensure good health, clean litter box habits, and alleviate undesirable territorial behaviors, it is imperative that a pet rabbit be spayed or neutered, which will cost approximately $200-350 depending on the rabbit’s gender and one’s geographical location.
There are many sources on the Internet (here at houserabbitga.org or the House Rabbit Society at www.rabbit.org) from which to learn more about the care and behavior of rabbits. Learn all you can before making your decision. If you decide that you—the parent—would enjoy caring for a bunny, there are great advantages in working with a rabbit rescue group to find the ‘right’ bun. Most rescues offer only spayed or neutered rabbits, which can save you hundreds of dollars in comparison to having your rabbit sterilized by your own veterinarian. The majority of rescued rabbits live in foster homes where they are litter box trained and socialized with children, visitors, and other companion animals. Fosterers are experienced ‘bunny people,’ well-acquainted with each of their foster rabbits’ unique personalities and preferences. Rescue organizations are skilled at selecting a ‘best fit’ between the animal and the adoptive family, which helps to ensure the comfort and happiness of everyone involved, including the adopted rabbit. These groups offer expert advice on topics such as suitable indoor housing, bunny-proofing, optimal diet, and early symptoms of illness or disease. Most importantly, by adopting a rescued rabbit, you and your family will save two additional unwanted rabbits: one currently at the shelter who will subsequently have space in your adopted rabbit’s foster site, and that of the rabbit who won’t be euthanized for lack of one additional space at the facility to which he’s just been surrendered.
If, however, your research leads you to the conclusion that a live rabbit isn’t the right choice for your family, you can still delight your child at Easter. Purchase a stuffed, cuddly, soft toy rabbit instead. Its care requirements will be minimal. It will survive those overabundances of love as well as innocent mishandlings, and it will never cost you a fortune at the vets’ office. No one will ever feel guilty if the child outgrows the toy’s novelty or comfort. Best of all–you’ll never have to say you’re sorry if the live rabbit you took in on impulse just doesn’t work out.
By Deb Young
President of The House Rabbit Connection