As Angelenos plan Easter and spring-time celebrations, animal shelter officials are advising celebrants to fill baskets with chocolate bunnies – not real-life rabbits.
Giving furry, twitchy-nosed rabbits as seasonal gifts can be bad for the bunnies who get abandoned and for families surprised by the amount of care the pets require, according to the County of Los Angeles Department of Animal Care and Control.
The department is encouraging families who really want to bring home a bunny to adopt one of the many homeless rabbits at County Animal Care Centers.
In 2012, the county's Animal Care Centers experienced an influx of abandoned rabbits in the week following Easter. Thirty rabbits were brought into the county shelters -- an unusually large number for one week's time, said Evelina Villa, spokeswoman for the department.
"People get caught up in the novelty of a live rabbit as an Easter gift, and they don’t really think about the long-term commitment," Villa said.
Rabbits, which live for an average of 10 years, require as much attention as dogs and cats, she said.
"They are animals that need to be socialized. The rabbit does need to spend time outside the cage," said Villa, who added that some rabbits enjoy playing with other animals in addition to people.
Rabbits also require a "bunny-proof" environment and veterinary care, according to a PetCo blog post.
"Spaying or neutering is highly recommended in order to reduce or eliminate marking issues. It also makes for a healthier and friendlier rabbit," according to the post.
Rabbits are available for purchase at some pet stores and breeders and for adoption at shelters and rescue centers.
They are also sold illegally in places such as Santee Alley in Downtown Los Angeles, a topic that has been the focus of an NBC4 investigation. NBC4's Ana Garcia exposed the problem in August 2012 and found that vendors were illegally selling unhealthy rabbits and other frail animals.
If a person is interested in having a rabbit as a pet, Villa recommends adopting a rabbit. Currently, there are 69 rabbits living in County of Los Angeles animal shelters.
Considering that high number, the shelters are holding an ongoing adoption promotion for the spring season, Villa said.
For $25, a rabbit had be adopted, spayed or neutered and implanted with a microchip at one of the county's six shelters.