You'd think that years of stories like this one — making the point that buying a pet bunny at Eastertime is a bad impulsive purchase — the message would have sunk in.
"I can't say why, but it really hasn't," says Toni Greetis, vice president of the Red Door Animal Shelter in Chicago. Lucile Moore, author of Touched by a Rabbit (Infinity Publishing, $18.95), agrees, saying, "We know Easter purchases are still a problem, because two months or so after Easter, shelters all over the country are overwhelmed with returned rabbits."
While Red Door also adopts dogs and cats, they specialize in rabbits. However, not all cities have shelters where the staff understands rabbits. And those that do typically fill with rabbits floor to ceiling by mid-summer.
"It's sad and not necessary — if people only didn't make an impulsive decision," Greetis says.
Greetis notes that while there's no religious connection between rabbits and Easter, the link seems as intrinsic as Santa Claus and Christmas. The only difference is that while people don't necessarily think about buying a red suit at Christmastime, they do think of buying a bunny at Easter.
Of course, the idea of adopting a pet rabbit is fine — if you know what comes with the territory. For starters, it's a commitment; rabbits generally live seven to 12 years.
Moore says, "Often people have previously only had experiences with dogs and cats — and rabbits don't act like either. It's not bad, just different. But people don't always accept what doesn't match their expectations." The biggest myth of all is that rabbits and kids go together.
"Rabbits are really a very delicate prey animal," Greetis says. Too often, children want to carry bunnies around. This is problematic because rabbits are pretty much born with acrophobia (a fear of heights). "They really may feel like they're about to die when they are picked up," says Greetis. "So, of course, they panic. They may scratch and/or bite. If that happens, they may be dropped."
Moore says veterinarians all too frequently see rabbits with seriously injured spines, some even paralyzed, after being dropped by a child. Even if a rabbit is not injured, once it has scratched or bitten a family member, the pet is at risk for being abandoned.
"That's not to say that when they're held properly and securely (generally adults do this best), that many rabbits don't become accustomed to being carried around," says Greetis. While rabbits don't generally enjoy being smothered with hugs and kisses, as dogs and many cats tolerate — they do learn to recognize individual family members and express affection on their own terms.
Rabbits are great pets for busy families; they can tolerate being left home alone far better than dogs or even cats. That's because rabbits are naturally most active in the morning and early evening and enjoy snoozing during the day. They're also great apartment pets because they're quiet and don't take up much space. Litter box training is generally a snap. Greetis suggests feeding rabbits their dinner in the litter box. They like to multitask, having their bowel movements as they eat.
Inappropriate urine spraying is a common reason for giving up a rabbit, but spay/neuter can prevent that problem from developing in the first place. Spaying also prolongs a female rabbit's lifespan, eliminating chances of uterine or ovarian cancer, which are common in rabbits. In addition, spay/neuter settles down rabbits of both sexes, making them better pets.
Rabbits do require exercise and they enjoy play, says Moore. However, unlike a dog, there's no need to take a rabbit outdoors for a game of fetch. Some rabbits actually do fetch, and most enjoy toys. A good toy might be a cardboard box, toilet tube, paper towel roll, or piece of cardboard a rabbit can rip apart. After the game, they generally eat the toy. "It's okay," insists Greetis. "For a rabbit, it's just fiber."
Providing rabbits something they enjoy chewing is important. If you don't provide such items, the pet may choose its own, such as a throw rug or shoes. Far better for a rabbit's health, and your pocketbook (to save on vet bills) are digestible items (by rabbit standards). Greetis also suggests wooden toys made for parrots.
"I am not totally against purchasing rabbits at Easter," Moore concludes. "Get a chocolate rabbit." Learn more at www.makeminechocolate.org.
Learn more about rabbit health at welfare at www.reddoorshelter.org, or the House Rabbit Society, www.rabbit.org.
Tribune Media Services