Easter is a time of great importance for Christians and often a time of great fun for children, but for volunteers in one segment of the animal rescue community, it's the worst time of year.
"We see the biggest influx of abandoned rabbits right before Easter," said Michelle Kelly of the Los Angeles Rabbit Foundation. "For some reason, people think that is a stellar time to abandon bunnies. Since rabbits are not ideal pets for small children, we rabbit welfare people are not going to promote them as pets for kids and/or to put them in the Easter basket."
Every spring, local rescue groups like Kelly's go to great lengths to prevent the purchase of bunnies as Easter gifts for children. What begins as a well-meaning gesture often leads to abandoned bunnies when the novelty wears off and families realize they're not equipped to properly care for the animals.
"As cute as they are, bunnies don't make good Easter gifts," said Lejla Hadzimuratovic, founder of Bunny World Foundation, the Hollywood-based rescue group she's been running since 2008. "Typically bought on a whim as a toy for a child, they often live a desolate life in the corner of a filthy cage without enrichment until they are abandoned to a shelter or die of neglect. I want this Easter to be over already."
Top news of the day
Hadzimuratovic has been fighting a years-long battle against vendors who sell rabbits illegally on Los Angeles-area streets, mainly in downtown's fashion district. The vendors often sell baby rabbits that are far too young to survive on their own, sometimes falsely claiming they are "dwarf" breeds that won't get any bigger, Hadzimuratovic said, adding those purchases quickly turn to tragedy for families left with dead baby rabbits and devastated children.
The L.A. Animal Services Department recently took note of the problem, sending out a public service announcement to those considering bunnies as Easter gifts.
"As the Easter holiday approaches, L.A. Animal Services reminds the community that real rabbits, chicks and ducklings don't always make the best gifts," according to the agency. "Often these animals are sold illegally on the streets or in pet stores as tiny babies that are not strong enough to be adopted or are ill and many die soon after purchase, leaving everyone heartbroken.
"Sticking with a stuffed toy bunny or chocolate candy rabbit in the Easter basket is the safer and more enjoyable option for your loved one. You can also take this opportunity to educate young children about rabbits and pet responsibility."
Of course, advocates for the animals do want them to be adopted into loving homes, but they stress that adopting a rabbit is a serious commitment of 10 to 14 years that requires a willingness to learn the ropes.
All five shelters in the LAAS system have rabbits available for adoption, as does the L.A. Rabbit Foundation, BWF and BunnyLuv in the San Fernando Valley. The private groups all offer support and mentoring for new bunny owners. In addition, the House Rabbit Society has resources for learning about proper rabbit care.
A few basics offered by advocates:
- Domestic rabbits should be kept indoors at all times.
- They should be fed a diet of unlimited timothy hay and a daily portion of leafy greens, plus pellets for rabbits under 6 months.
- They should never be kept in cages, as they need room to hop around and exercise their legs.
- They need to be thoroughly groomed every two to three months to remove excess fur and have their nails trimmed.
- Bunnies who stop eating or appear to be in pain need immediate care from a veterinarian trained in the care of rabbits. Not every vet has this expertise, so bunny owners should find the one nearest them that they can rely on in an emergency.