If you’re thinking about surprising a child with a cute, cuddly, live bunny at Easter, think again. Yes, they’re inarguably cute, but not necessarily cuddly. They have delicate spines and many don’t like being picked up. In fact, children and bunnies are not really a good mix at all, experts say.
According to the House Rabbit Society, 80 percent of rabbits purchased as Easter pets don’t live to see their first birthdays. In the weeks and months after Easter, many of the rabbits trickle into local shelters when their owners realize how much care they require. Rabbits are the third-most common animal surrendered to shelters, after dogs and cats, said Brian Shapiro, New York state director for the Humane Society of the United States. And often, shelters are not equipped to handle them.
Rabbits are high-maintenance pets. They require socialization. A few months after they’re born, they’re already “teenagers.” Many don’t want to be picked up and will scratch, said Greenfield’s Meg Brown, a member of the Upstate New York House Rabbit Society. If they scratch they can be dropped, injuring their spines. They tend to sleep for much of day and do not like loud noises.
All this is more than most people think about when they make an impulse buy at Easter.
And rabbits live a long time — more than a decade, says Brad Shear, executive director of the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society in Menands. “Think about the long-term. What’s your plan? What are you going to do after Easter?” Shear said.
The House Rabbit Society, a nonprofit rabbit rescue, education and adoption organization does not advocate keeping rabbits outdoors in cages or hutches. Nancy Furstinger of Elizaville, an author and member of the Upstate New York Chapter of the House Rabbit Society, wrote “The Forgotten Rabbit,” a book based on the story of an Easter pet who was caged outside and neglected for three years.
“I will say that a lot of the worst cases of bunnies that I’ve seen are actually bunnies that have been in outside cages or hutches,” Brown said. “They get sores on their feet and their water freezes in the winter. They can die from heat stroke in the summer, and they can freeze in the winter.”
Other threats are mites, ticks and fleas. “Mice will go into their hutches and bring parasites in,” she said. And rabbits in cages and hutches often don’t get enough exercise or socialization. The House Rabbit Society advocates keeping rabbits indoors, more like a dog or a cat. They can be litter trained.
Good idea — for some
If you are prepared to take care of them, rabbits do make great pets. The Chorny family of Clifton Park is a case in point. Jenna Chorny, 11, is an avid animal lover, and last summer she convinced her parents to adopt two rabbits, a brother-and-sister pair that she named Harold and Freckles.
“My daughter researched everything about the rabbits,” said André Chorny. “She knew so much about rabbits — what they eat, what they need as far as grooming goes and that you have to be social with them.”
He thought she might tire of them quickly, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. The bunnies have a 8-by-5-foot penned-in area that Chorny constructed in the family’s finished basement. Every day after school, Jenna does her homework and then changes the litter box. She makes sure her rabbits get their two servings of lettuce every day, and she spends time petting and grooming them, which involves brushing their fur and clipping their toenails.
Harold doesn’t like to be petted, but his sister will fall asleep in Jenna’s arms. Each day, they get free run of the basement to get some exercise.
Jenna doesn’t mind the work of taking care of the rabbits. “All the work in the world is good enough for them,” she said. “They’re like my best friends.”
Bunny shelter, rehab
But often a fury surprise in an Easter basket doesn’t get a chance to become a best friend.
The Mohawk Hudson Humane Society shelter gets 75-100 rabbits dropped off a year, often poorly cared for animals that need to be rehabilitated and socialized before they can be put up for adoption.
Shapiro said the Easter basket bunnies that end up at shelters are the lucky ones — many are simply released into the wild, which more often than not is a death sentence. “[Domestic] rabbits that are released into the wild — they starve, they freeze and they suffer,” Shapiro said. “They’re exposed to diseases. Bunny rabbits have not been bred in a way that they can survive in the wild. People who think they are releasing a rabbit back to nature are harming them.”
Brown has rescued many domestic bunnies from the wild. “They very often are very ill, have sores, wounds, and they’re extremely sick,” she said.
New York state has passed laws to try to stem the sale of bunnies at Easter. According to the New York State Agriculture and Market Law, rabbits under two months old cannot be sold in quantities of less than six. It is also illegal to dye their fur or give them an artificial color. Abandoning rabbits is a misdemeanor.
But such laws are hard to enforce, Brown said. Instead, rescue organizations focus on education and promote alternatives to giving live rabbits at Easter.
The obvious options are the plentiful chocolate and stuffed-animal bunnies available for Easter baskets. But if people are looking for a live-rabbit experience, they are welcome to come into the Menands shelter to pet one, Shear said.