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Hillsborough to consider regulating rabbit sales

Humane Society of Tampa Bay reported rabbit surrenders will top 2021 despite a county education campaign.
Hillsborough County commissioners took the first step Wednesday toward regulating retail sales of rabbits. Shown are rabbits at the SPCA Tampa Bay in Largo in November 2021.
Hillsborough County commissioners took the first step Wednesday toward regulating retail sales of rabbits. Shown are rabbits at the SPCA Tampa Bay in Largo in November 2021. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Sep. 21|Updated Sep. 21

TAMPA — A ban on retail sales of pet rabbits could be hopping into Hillsborough County.

Hillsborough County commissioners agreed unanimously Wednesday with Commissioner Pat Kemp to obtain similar ordinances from other Florida locales “that we can use to regulate rabbit sales.”

New rules could include banning the retail sale of rabbits unless the animals are sterilized and come from a shelter or rescue group. That would follow the county ordinance governing retail sales of dogs and cats. A proposed ordinance also could contain an exclusion for legitimate agricultural purposes.

The commission sentiment came after four people, speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting, asked for the ban. Later, data from the county’s Pet Resource Center indicated an earlier public education campaign had not diminished the number of rabbits surrendered to the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.

The county also shared that 69% of retailers reported sales of rabbits equal to or exceeding their 2021 numbers.

“It appears that educational awareness program assisted, but did not solve the problem,” said commissioner chairperson Kimberly Overman.

The county education campaign, aimed at retail outlets, tried to discourage customers from making impulse buys of rabbits during the Easter season. Still, the Humane Society took in 155 rabbits during the first six months of this year and turned away 54 more. It expects to take in 300 rabbits this year, up from 264 in 2021.

Taking surrenders and fostering the animals falls to nonprofits or volunteers because government-run shelters in the Tampa Bay area do not accept rabbits.

The dilemma is buyer’s remorse that sometimes accompanies pet rabbit purchases. The cute, fuzzy fur balls grow into animals requiring significant cleaning because of their waste output. They also have an appetite for nearly anything chewable including rubber, plastics, clothing, wood and electrical wires.

It leads to owners surrendering animals to shelters or simply releasing them outdoors.

A group of grassroots animal advocates have been asking the county to ban retail sales of rabbits — at least near the Easter holiday season — since last year. The county, however, opted for a public education campaign instead.

But commissioners said Wednesday they are ready to consider stronger measures.

“As long as it doesn’t interfere with agriculture production in our community, I think it would be wise to direct the prohibition of retail pet production,” said Overman.

“I think this is the right direction,” agreed Commissioner Ken Hagan who previously advocated for regulations on retail sales of dogs and cats.

Pasco County approved rules governing rabbit sales earlier this year. DeSoto and Orange counties and the city of Key West are among the other jurisdictions prohibiting retail sales of rabbits.

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