Where did all the bunnies go?
Bunnies and Easter. They go together like cake and ice cream, peanut butter and jelly or Simon and Garfunkel. Or do they? Contrary to popular belief, rabbits are not as cuddly as they look. In fact, as ground creatures, they don't much care for being snuggled in arms and carried around like stuffed animals... a fact most parents overlook when choosing an Easter bunny for their children.
Every year, sometime after Easter, thousands of rabbits are brought to animal shelters across the United States after the owners realize they take far more care then previously thought. "Most rabbits purchased as Easter pets won't live to see their first birthday," states Margo DeMello, education coordinator for the House Rabbit Society. "Many will die of neglect and others will be abandoned in parks or left at animal shelters." The House Rabbit Society is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the rescue of unwanted rabbits and educating the public on rabbit care.
Mary Huey knows all too well the tragedy of the rabbit overpopulation problem. Huey is the volunteer chairperson of the Oregon Humane Society's Rabbit Advocate Program. She sees approximately 100 to 125 unwanted rabbits come through the humane society every year. Huey believes that, "Too frequently a rabbit is an impulse purchase to satisfy a child's begging for a pet, as if it were a toy." Lack of education is why many rabbits end up at the humane society as unwanted pets.
"In the companion animal chain, many people feel that rabbits are third after dogs and cats and therefore, attach less importance to them. We are constantly fighting an uphill battle with this public assumption," states Huey. "To many of us, who know and love them, this just isn't the case." The Oregon Humane Society sponsors a Rabbit Awareness Day every year. It's no accident that this event is held just before Easter.
Baby chicks and ducks also suffer needlessly from being linked to a holiday. Though not as common as rabbits, parents often give these fuzzy feathered friends to their children for Easter as well. Their appeal as adults are less then full grown rabbits, and many end up as fast food for the neighborhood cats.
Things you should know
First off, bunny communication is subtle. Unlike cats, they can't purr to show their affection, nor can they wag their tails like dogs. You have to really look for signs that your bunny enjoys your company. Rabbits may show affection by licking you. If they rub their chin on you, they are marking you as their territory, very flattering. Teeth grinding can indicate contentment, like a cat's purr.
Rabbits are social creatures. A rabbit left outside in a hutch, for long periods of time, can often become surly or depressed. Rabbits thrive in the home, they can learn to use the litter box, get along with other animals and can become regular members of the household, much like a dog or cat.
Bunnies can, and should, be spayed and neutered. The pet overpopulation problem isn't exclusive to cats and dogs. Like other pets, rabbits are also healthier when sterilized.
General rabbit care from the House Rabbit Society
- Don't allow the rabbits outside unattended. They can go into shock and die whenapproached by dogs, cats, raccoons and owls.
- Provide housing that's at least four times the size of the adult rabbit.
- Plan for 30 hours of running time a week for the rabbit.
- Feed the rabbit one to two cups of vegetables daily as well as fresh pellets, water and hay.
- Keep fresh oat or timothy hay available at all times.
- Use a flea comb to brush away excess hair. Rabbits shed their coat four times a year.
- Place a litter box in one corner of the cage. Use dust-free litter; avoid softwood shavings and clumping litter.
- Though rabbits do make enchanting pets, please remember to check into the care required to keep one. They are not a starter pet, something to try out before committing to a dog or cat. If you are not willing to make the commitment necessary to care for a rabbit... make your rabbit a chocolate one this year.