Here comes Peter Cottontail
Hoppin’ down the bunny trail
Hippity hoppin’ Easter’s on its way
― Steve Nelson & Jack Rollins
Yes, Easter is just around the corner, bringing with it all the colors and pomp that thousands of years bestow upon cultural traditions. I enjoy Easter as much as the next guy: I appreciate its religious significance (both pagan and Christian), I’m particularly fond of vegan chocolate and jelly beans, and just try to find a lily I won’t admire. What I do not abide is animal cruelty, and that is sadly associated with this otherwise joyous holiday.
This month, countless parents across the country will decide, usually with little thought or research, that a baby rabbit is a wonderful way to help their child celebrate Easter. “Oh, aren’t bunnies adorable?” they’ll sigh. “Won’t little Dylan and Dakota be thrilled?” they’ll muse. “Isn’t a bunny the perfect pet for any child?” they’ll reason. My response: “Yes,” “Probably at first,” and “Absolutely not.”
It is true that rabbits are enormously appealing in many ways. Humans who live with them are usually amazed by the rabbit’s intelligence, beguiled by their gentle natures, and captivated by their lively personalities. Rabbits make wonderful companions who bond for life with their guardians, know their names, and play with toys. I share my home with five rabbits, and they never fail to delight me, no matter how rough a day I’ve had.
But all too often people give little thought before bringing home a rabbit, impulsively buying them at pet stores and then, when the novelty has worn off, discarding the bunnies at already crowded shelters, where they may never find a real home -- rabbits are the third most euthanized animals in the country. Other disenchanted parents will dump an unwanted rabbit in the park, where the helpless domestic bunny will quickly be eaten by predators, get run over by a car, become ill, or starve.
Keenly aware of the Easter Bunny’s popularity in song and myth, some pet stores will be actively promoting rabbits as wonderful starter animals. This is simply not true. To begin with, while children want an animal they can hold, most rabbits detest being picked up, much to the bewilderment and disappointment of uninformed rabbit guardians. Remember, rabbits are prey animals -- to them, being lifted off the ground means they’re becoming someone’s dinner. Rabbits are social and do love attention, but gingerly and on terra firma. They are also very sensitive animals who don’t tolerate the lively natures of young children.
Moreover, rabbits are not low-maintenance companions; they require unlimited hay, fresh greens, daily water changes, weekly combing, monthly nail trimming, and annual exams with a bunny-savvy vet. They should also be spayed or neutered, which will benefit their health, reduce territory marking, and of course prevent the creation of more rabbits (it’s not by accident they are symbols of fertility). Rabbits will also use a litterbox, which needs frequent cleaning. Oh, and did I mention the chewing? Any rooms the rabbit will have access to need to be bunny-proofed, since rabbits, who are burrowing animals, have a strong biting instinct and will chew on your baseboard or nip through telephone cords.
Although many people still believe rabbits are fine in an outdoor hutch, consigning them to the backyard constrains their natural behaviors, subjects them to the danger of predators and inclement weather, and denies you the pleasure of their company. Rabbits flourish indoors, where they can run, dance, and play in safety.
If, after doing some homework, you decide a rabbit is right for your family, please do not buy from a pet store. “I encourage all parents to teach their kids the lesson of love and compassion by adopting from their local shelter or rescue group, or even volunteering,” says Marcy Schaaf, founder of SaveABunny (www.saveabunny.org), a nonprofit rabbit-rescue organization. Marcy reminds potential guardians that keeping a rabbit means making a seven- to 10-year emotional, financial, and physical commitment.
Unless you are truly prepared to take in a rabbit this Easter, please give your child a stuffed animal or animal book instead. You might also consider sponsoring a rabbit at organizations like SaveABunny, Animal Place (www.animalplace.org), or the House Rabbit Society (www.rabbit.org). In the long run, you’ll be making a happier holiday for everyone.