Save a Bunny, Buy a Toy
By Natasha Habib
With their little twitching noses, big ears and soft fur, cute rabbits can be irresistible to the eyes and arms of children wanting to snuggle the timid, fluffy creatures. If you’re thinking all you need are carrots and a cage for a short-lived pet though, beware — there is probably more to rabbits than you think.
Those balls of fluff you purchase at the pet store actually have the life span of a large dog, living on average eight to ten years, sometimes longer, said Debbie Braunschweiger, rabbit volunteer at the Humane Society of Greater Dayton. Often, new rabbit owners have little education on their new pets and don’t realize that within a few months, the bunnies will grow and their personalities will change.
In fact, rabbits need to be spayed and neutered, which will cut down on aggression (like charging or biting), risk of uterine cancer in females and the spraying of urine by males, said Steve Carman, president of the Dayton Area Rabbit Network (DARN), a nonprofit organization focusing on rabbit education and outreach.
Another thing many impulsive bunny-buyers don’t consider is the cost of veterinarian bills. Rabbits are considered exotic pets, and there are only a handful of exotic vets in the area.
“Every time I go to the vet for most medical things, it’s almost $200,” said Carman, who cares for about 20 surrendered DARN rabbits. And if you don’t adopt your rabbit from the Humane Society (for a fee of only $45) where they’ve already been spayed or neutered, factor in $400 for females and between $250 and $350 for males, said Braunschweiger, unless you can wait for the mobile Rascal Unit to visit the Humane Society. Based in the Columbus area, Rascal will spay and neuter Ohio pets at a highly discounted rate — just $52 per rabbit. (Yes, the Humane Society charges you less for a rabbit than it costs them to spay or neuter it.)
Owners who aren’t aware of the cost and care involved with rabbits are why just a few months after Easter, the influx starts: thousands of rabbits are relinquished to shelters, or worse, let loose — a death sentence. The Humane Society is currently at full capacity, with 12 rabbits in the building and a few others being fostered. Sadly, there is a waiting list of owners trying to surrender theirs.
“This isn’t even the busy season, but we’ve already got about 19 bunnies on the waiting list now. And about three months after Easter, it’ll double,” said Braunschweiger.
Something else new owners may not be aware of is that rabbits need interaction and exercise, so you can’t just keep them in a cage all the time, and you definitely should not keep them in outdoor hutches. Outside, rabbits are very sensitive to temperature, they can pick up diseases and they can literally be scared to death by predators.
“Either bring them inside or don’t have them,” said Carman.
Inside, rabbits will naturally use a litter box and can be allowed to roam rabbit-proofed areas of the home. If they’re kept in pens or large cages, they still need to get out and exercise.
“They need attention, they’re very social creatures,” said Braunschweiger, who is also a member of the House Rabbit Society. “Just putting them in a cage is not good for you or them, there’s no point in it.” If you don’t have enough time to interact with your bun, you can get it a friend, but they need to have bonding dates first.
“Once they do bond, they bond for life,” said Braunschweiger. “They become like BFFs [best friends forever], and if something were to happen to one or the other, they grieve very much like humans do.” Because rabbits can die from depression, bonded pairs should not be separated. If ones passes away, its friend should be given time with the body.
“Sometimes they’ll nudge it, sometimes they’ll groom it, sometimes they’ll just lie with it,” she said. “But eventually then they’ll walk away, within a few hours usually. That allows them to realize that their partner’s not coming back … it’s heart-wrenching to watch.”
In addition to exercise and companionship, rabbits need toys, especially ones to chew. They can also be trained. Rabbit agility courses are actually somewhat popular in Europe.
“Rabbits are smarter than people think,” said Carman.
“They make wonderful pets,” said Braunschweiger. “You just need to know what you’re getting into. And if you’re ok with that, you’ll have years of enjoyment with them.” If you’re sure a rabbit is right for you, it is much more cost effective to adopt from the Humane Society.
“Plus, you’re not supporting a bunny mill,” said Carman.
If you’re not sure you can make the commitment, however, consider an alternative Easter gift.
“We don’t like the idea of rabbits being associated with Easter — not live rabbits,” said Carman of DARN members and rabbit-lovers. “Cartoon rabbits, chocolate rabbits, stuffed rabbits — we’re right there with ya. It’s just, you know, this is a living creature.”
(For more information visit Dayton Area Rabbit Network (DARN) online at daytonrabbit.org and on Facebook or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the Humane Society of Greater Dayton online at www.humanesocietydayton.org and on Facebook or call (937) 268-PETS (7387) Check out the House Rabbit Society online at www.rabbit.org and makeminechocolate.org)
Reach DCP freelance writer Natasha Habib at NatashaHabib@DaytonCityPaper.com