Pasco ends retail sales of rabbits

County officials hope this will help rabbit rescues and wild rabbits
Rabbits up for adoption snuggle together in their cage in 2021 at the SPCA Tampa Bay, 9099 130th Ave. N in Largo.
Rabbits up for adoption snuggle together in their cage in 2021 at the SPCA Tampa Bay, 9099 130th Ave. N in Largo. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Oct. 11, 2022|Updated Oct. 11, 2022

DADE CITY — The days of cute baby bunnies in cages luring buyers who can’t resist a purchase will end in Pasco County as the County Commission on Tuesday voted unanimously to ban retail sale of rabbits.

In June, the commission unanimously approved an ordinance to ban public sales of rabbits, thereby stopping flea market vendors and other breeders from selling them in the open. At the time, they asked county staff to bring back language for a retail ban.

Tuesday’s approval now puts rabbits on the same level as dogs and cats, which have been banned from pet store sales in Pasco since 2020. That doesn’t mean big pet stores such as PetSmart and Petco don’t offer animals. They partner with rescue groups to adopt out stray animals in need of new homes, offering them space to display their rescue animals.

That model has worked for big pet retailers who know that once someone adopts a new pet, they are going to need a place to purchase food, toys and other supplies, county officials have said.

Animal advocates have pushed to end the retail sales of dogs, cats and rabbits to put pressure on breeders who do not always take good care of their animals. It’s also meant to ease some of the pressure on rescue groups that take in pets that have landed in homes not suited for them or with people unable or unwilling to provide proper care.

Unwanted rabbits have been an especially challenging issue, as there are few places that will take surrendered bunnies people buy during the Easter holiday season unaware of their special needs. That has resulted in frequent abandonment of rabbits after they are no longer cute Easter mementos, but rather pets with specific care challenges, advocates have said.

Some choose to simply release them into the wild, where they do not know how to survive, and they can carry diseases that threaten local rabbit populations.

Kurtis Marsh runs Suncoast House Rabbit Rescue in Pasco County and has urged the commission to approve the new retail rabbit ban. “Anything you can do to stop the constant flow of rabbits will help,” he told commissioners previously.

Other animal advocates have also urged the vote and just a couple attended Tuesday, but none spoke after Commissioner Mike Moore said that the board was in favor.

Hillsborough County is also considering a retail ban.