New Mexico's Pet Resource WINTER 2002


SEASONAL STORY

NO RABBITS FOR EASTER . . . PLEASE!

By Barbara Bacon


People who love rabbits dread Easter more than any other holiday. Easter means that baby rabbits--along with baby chicks--will show up in pet stores in large numbers only to be sold for a few dollars to people who will buy them on impulse. Many of those people will later abandon those rabbits and chicks. The ones who feel guilty about it will surrender them to rescue organizations and volunteers or to animal shelters (where they will most likely be euthanized). The irresponsible people will simply put the rabbits outside and leave them to fend for themselves. Those unlucky animals will likely be killed by predators or suffer an even worse fate.

John and Susan Lau are familiar with the annual Easter rabbit parade. It's the Laus and people like them who deal with the aftermath of Easter, when the cuteness and "newness" of baby Easter bunnies and chicks has worn off, the kids have lost interest and the parents decide they really don't want them after all. Although many people are aware of the horrific cat and dog overpopulation problem, which results in millions of perfectly healthy animals being killed every year in the United States alone, very few people know that there is a similar rabbit overpopulation problem, resulting in the need for dedicated people willing to volunteer their time, homes and love to rescue abandoned and unwanted rabbits and find them good homes.

Easter is one of the causes of the rabbit overpopulation problem. That's because Easter is when the bunny mills really swing into production, turning out those thousands of baby rabbits you see in the cage next to that doggy in the window. Just as there are puppy and cat mills, the notorious breeding places where animals live in filth, illness and misery, so are there rabbit mills. And then, just as with cats and dogs, there are the backyard breeders. "Before Easter, the signs go up along the roadside," says John Lau.

There is also another cause for rabbit overpopulation, one that may have a familiar ring. Many people who adopt rabbits never bother to get them spayed or neutered. Two rabbits can become 20 rabbits in a shockingly short time. "Rabbits' gestation period is only 30 to 32 days," said Susan Lau, "and within a few weeks after delivery, a female can get pregnant again. Rabbits are at the bottom of the food chain. If a rabbit in the wild lives two years, that's a long time. The only way rabbits can survive is by reproducing."

That rabbits enter puberty at an early age complicates the problem, John added. "When they enter puberty they get a little more aggressive. They can start snapping and nipping at you. And rabbits attract mates by leaving little piles and puddles (of you know what) around." This is about the time when a lot of neophyte rabbit owners decide that a rabbit as a pet isn't such a good idea after all.

Susan said she has learned that people generally don't have the same compassion about rabbits as they do about dogs and cats (although people involved in dog and cat rescue work will tell you they don't see much compassion either). "I can't tell you how many times people have told me 'Well, it's only a rabbit.' And I can't tell you how many times our phone has rung as early as the day after Easter," she said.

One of the reasons rabbits are so attractive as impulse purchases is that they can be bought for a few bucks. Although purebred rabbits are more expensive, even they can be had for a lot less money than a purebred cat or dog, the Laus explained. "Pet stores make their money on the supplies they sell and the feed," Susan added. Even when someone buys a rabbit on impulse, they are still going to walk out of the pet store with a cage, a carrier, food and water bowls, a litter box, litter, bedding material and food--at bare minimum. All of that will end up costing a lot more than the rabbit.

Rabbits may be inexpensive, but they do require a commitment --and vigilance. "A rabbit is not a good pet for a child," Susan said. "Their bone structure is very delicate and they can be injured easily. They can even break their own backs if they kick too hard." "Children under seven or eight years old don't understand that a rabbit is not a toy. They are a critter that requires a lot of watching. If a rabbit gets sick, it can be gone in a day. It needs immediate veterinarian care," John added.

When rabbits get sick, things can get critical in a matter of hours, which is why, the Laus said, it is vital to make sure that your veterinarian is experienced in caring for rabbits. "I've had people tell me, 'My veterinarian said he knew rabbits, but my rabbit is dead.' Rabbits cannot tolerate penicillin or other similar antibiotics," Susan said, so it can literally be a matter of life or death to make sure your vet knows what he or she is doing when it comes to rabbits.

"And rabbits require more specialized diets," John added. Susan quickly agreed: "Diet is the thing that keeps rabbits healthy. They don't get vaccinations." A good diet, exercise and preventing rabbits from getting stressed are the keys to a long rabbit life. Hutch, or outside, rabbits have a lifespan of about five or six years, she said, "but a house rabbit can easily live to be 10 or 12 years old. House rabbits don't have to cope with weather changes or the stress of outside animals," like coyotes, hawks and owls. The Laus' two rabbits, a female, Peanut and a male, Chewy, will be eight and seven years old this summer.

"Every night our bunnies get fresh vegetables for dinner," Susan said. "I chop up cilantro, parsley, carrots and broccoli. Some people don't want to make that kind of commitment."

Although the Laus no longer foster rescued rabbits --"We just ran out of emotion," John explained --they are active members of the House Rabbit Society and still assist with placing rabbits for adoption. "We have a digital camera and we are happy to take pictures of rabbits needing homes and put the pictures on the Four Corners Bunnies website," he said. And, Susan added, they also handle email inquiries from people who want to adopt rabbits, and they answer questions about rabbit care.

So what would the Laus like for Easter? "If people would not go to pet stores," Susan said. "If you want a pet rabbit, contact rescue organizations first. Chances are very good there's a rabbit waiting there."

The House Rabbit Society's website (www.rabbit.org) provides a wealth of information about rabbits and rabbit care. Four Corners Bunnies, a rescue organization for the Southwest, can be accessed through the House Rabbit Society's website by clicking on the "chapters" icon.

Barbara Bacon, a former journalist, lives in Albuquerque with her three cats. She is a volunteer with the Alliance Against Animal Abuse and Prairie Dog Pals.


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