TAMPA — Retail rabbit sales won’t be hopping out of Hillsborough County anytime soon.
Hillsborough commissioners agreed Wednesday to start a public education campaign aimed at curbing seasonal sales of pet rabbits near Easter. But the commission stopped short of an outright sales ban or a moratorium on rabbit retailing that had been sought by animal advocates.
Advocates repeated their pitches Wednesday morning during the commission’s public comment period.
“These animals may be cute and adorable, but I can assure you that the pet breeding industry is not,” Samantha Borr told commissioners.
She was one of eight people who asked the commission to ban retail sales of rabbits because the hard-to-care-for animals often get turned over to rescue shelters or released into the wild where they can starve or become prey for other animals.
Government-run animal shelters in the Tampa Bay area do not accept rabbits. That means the task of taking surrenders and fostering the animals falls to nonprofits or volunteers.
Kurtis Marsh, president of the Holiday-based Suncoast House Rabbit Rescue, said his organization received 45 telephone calls between Christmas and New Year’s Day from people seeking to surrender pet rabbits.
He and others wanted the commission to add rabbits to the local ordinance that prohibits retail sales of dogs and cats. The problem, they said, stemmed mostly from impulse purchases near Easter that later trigger buyer’s remorse.
The problem is real and has existed for decades, Scott Trebatoski, the county’s pet resources director, later told commissioners.
He and the county’s legal staff suggested the commission begin an education campaign while seeking a voluntary moratorium from retailers to stop the rabbit sales.
Commissioner Stacy White, however, objected to the voluntary moratorium idea. He and the rest of the commission agreed to start the education campaign — focusing on the sale of rabbits and other animals associated with the Easter holiday, such as chicks and ducklings — before considering further rules.
DeSoto County and the city of Key West prohibit retail sales of rabbits. Orange County adopted a similar ordinance in June and gave retailers a one-year grace period to comply.
Animal advocate Renee Rivard of Manatee County previously said advocates’ research showed 18 stores in Hillsborough County sold rabbits.
The county staff, however, said no large-scale pet stores sell rabbits and the animals are sold primarily at feed stores.