Saturday, April 13, 2013

Down in the Post-Easter Dumps

"I want to get my kids a bunny for Easter!  That would be SO cute!"

These are the words that make every person that works in the rabbit rescue world cringe.  Many parents think about the short-term "cuteness" of seeing their child hold a cute, fluffy, baby bunny on Easter morning.  They do not stop to think about the long-term consequences of acquiring a pet rabbit.

This is what many parents envision when think about an "Easter bunny" (photo from
This is why every rabbit rescue around the country embarks on a mission a month or two before Easter to educate parents about the reality of Easter bunnies.  Organizations such as Make Mine Chocolate and Rabbitron do huge advertising campaigns each year to encourage parents to purchase chocolate or toy bunnies rather than live bunnies for Easter morning.

The reality is this:  the bulk of bunnies purchased for Easter are abandoned or dead before the following Easter.
Contrast this with the photo above.  Not so pretty.  We rescued Winston from this situation.
Myths and Realities
Sadly, in the minds of most people, rabbits are a "disposable" animal.  Here are some myths and realities.
  1. When trying to convince people not to buy a bunny for Easter, I have had them say to me, "Well, it'll only live a year or two anyway."  No, they are not this short-lived.  When cared for properly, a rabbit's lifespan can be as long as some dogs - 10 to 12 years (or longer!)  Many rabbits purchased for Easter perish prematurely from lack of care.
  2. Many people think that when the kids tire of the "Easter bunny", they can just release it into the wild.  "Bunnies live in the wild.  It'll be happy and free!"  No.  Your rabbit will be food.  Domestic rabbits are a different species than the wild cottontails you are used to seeing.  They are NOT wild rabbits.  They do not know the ways of surviving like their wild counterparts.  We have domesticated them, and as such, are responsible for caring for them.  That beautiful white bunny you think you're setting free?  You might as well paint a bullseye on his back.  This is why most albino animals in the wild do not survive long.  Predators see them more readily.  The bunny may make for a day...a week...maybe a month if lucky - but it WILL end up dead.
  3. The myth of "starter pets" - parents think, "Rabbits are easy to care for.  The kids can feed it each day."  The reality:  kids and bunnies do NOT mix unless there is a responsible adult to facilitate a healthy relationship (and be the primary caretaker).  Rabbits are delicate.  Kids are rough.  With a few exceptions, rabbits do not like being picked up, carried around, and constantly snuggled.  They are prey animals and like to do things on their terms.  In addition, rabbits need hay, fresh veggies, PLAIN pellets, and fresh water each day.  Behavior, eating habits, and droppings need to be monitored.  When they do become ill, they tend to go downhill fast.  Being prey animals, they tend to hide illness or weakness, so they need someone to know their regular behavior.
  4. People think they will get a rabbit for Easter morning, and then drop the rabbit at a local rescue or shelter.  The general public has NO idea how many requests shelter organizations receive after Easter for bunny placement.  The sad reality is this:  no-kill organizations cannot possibly handle all the requests.  Foster space and finances are limited.  The local pound will euthanize (some upon intake).  We have had people angrily yell at us:  "Isn't this what you're here for???"  As much as we would like to, we cannot take in every bunny, especially in the months following Easter when we get dozens of requests a week.
Make Mine Chocolate flyer
Too late...I bought an Easter bunny.  What should I do?

It is our hope that you will become a responsible bunny parent.  We all have to start somewhere.  The biggest step is to educate yourself.  Realize that in making this impulse purchase, you have taken on the commitment of a living, breathing, feeling animal.  Remember that rescue organizations are overwhelmed.  Rabbits are the third most abandoned pet in the United States after cats and dogs.
  1. Is your rabbit outside?  Bring her into the house!  Rabbits should be housed indoors for their safety and well-being.
  2. Do some reading.  A great place to start is the House Rabbit Society website  .  You can find links to everything about rabbit care here - diet, housing, behavior, veterinary emergencies, etc.  
  3. Find other "rabbit people".  A good place to start is to look for local House Rabbit Society educators on the House Rabbit Society website.  Forums on sites like Bunspace or email lists such as Etherbun (on Yahoo groups) are a great source of information.  Most people will be happy to offer advice and support.  A great thing to do - find a local rabbit rescue.  They can offer advice and recommend good local rabbit vets.  They will often do things like help clip your bunny's nails (usually for a small donation to the rescue).
  4. Realize that a few months down the line, your rabbit will become sexually mature and the hormones will start raging.  They will be territorial, aggressive, and smell!  Males will spray urine.  Time to get your bunny spayed/neutered.  Typically, males can be neutered around 3 months or when the testicles drop, and females can be spayed around 5-6 months.  Check the House Rabbit Society website or check with your local rabbit rescue to find a good rabbit vet - not just any vet will do!  And yes, rabbits need to go in for regular check ups as well.
That's the short-term.  For long-term, here are a few things to consider:
  1. Once your bunny is spayed/neutered, you can really work on litter training.  This is actually very easy - rabbits are naturally very clean animals.  In most cases, you can give them a litter box (use rabbit-safe litter NOT clumping clay litter) and place hay in it - the rabbit will likely figure it out.
  2. Work with your kids and show them how to properly behave around a rabbit.  Teach them to quietly sit on the floor and let the bunny come to them.  Young children should never be allowed to pick up a rabbit.  A frightened rabbit will kick and scratch, harming the child and possibly breaking their own back.  Teach your child to calmly pet the bunny on the floor.
  3. When you realize that your bunny is a member of the family, you might think about getting him/her a companion.  Rabbits are happiest with other friends of their species.  You can't just throw two rabbits together - they must go through a bonding process.  Your local rescue can help match a rabbit to yours and guide you through the process.
  4. Monitor your bunny's health.  Lethargy, lack of appetite, loss of balance and other symptoms can be life-threatening emergencies.  This is why it is good to have a good rabbit vet before emergency strikes.
  5. Help spread the word!  There is nothing better than a testimonial from someone who DID make an impulse "Easter bunny" purchase and turned it into a commitment to having a rabbit as a member of the family.  Most Easter bunny stories end up far more tragically.  If you meet a parent considering an Easter bunny, you can say, "I bought an Easter bunny for my kids, but I had NO idea what I was getting into!  They live for 10 years or more, need to be housed inside, need to be spayed/neutered, fed a proper diet, and receive regular vet check ups.  I love my bunny as a family member, but it would have been a much smarter idea to buy the kids a toy bunny instead."  This a great way to show people that it's not all about having a cute live baby bunny on Easter morning - it's a 10+ year commitment of providing for an intelligent and wonderful pet.
Banner for the Rabbitron Easter campaign