During the Easter season, local animal rescue organizations – including the Washington Area Humane Society, Animal Rescue League Shelter & Wildlife Center and the Pittsburgh House Rabbit Club – discourage people from buying baby bunnies as Easter basket gifts.
But as rabbits hop to the center of attention this time of year, they do say these fuzzy bundles can make good pets if prospective owners do their homework and commit to caring for them as they would a dog or cat.
Louise Zbozny of Claysville is a member of Pittsburgh House Rabbit Club and currently has four rabbits, including one named Pip, who was rescued during a roundup at a church in Duquense where someone released more than a dozen rabbits – Zbozny suspects they were Easter rabbits – in the parking lot.
“Rabbits are wonderful and I love my rabbits. They all have such different personalities but they’re certainly not a good gift for children on Easter morning,” said Zbozny.
About 95 percent of rabbits given as gifts on Easter won’t survive to see their first birthday. Some will die from neglect, while others will be abandoned in local woods and parks (unlike wild rabbits, domestic rabbits are not equipped to survive in the wild) or left at animal shelters.
“We would encourage people, if you want to get children bunnies or chicks, that you give them chocolate or marshmallow ones, because they require no care,” said Janice Barnard of the Animal Rescue League in Pittsburgh. “You can have no attention span and not harm a chocolate animal. You can forget to feed a chocolate bunny and nobody’s going to mind at all.”
A rabbit can live from eight to 12 years, as long as some dogs and cats, so rabbit owners face a decade-long commitment when they purchase one.
The Washington Area Humane Society does not accept rabbits, but four Pittsburgh area organizations do: Animal Friends, Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, Animal Rescue League and Rabbit Wranglers.
Last year, Animal Rescue League took in 102 bunnies, and currently there are 12 rabbits available for adoption at the league’s Hamilton Street building and 10 are at foster homes. The Western Pennsylvania Humane Society has 20 rabbits at its North Shore location and two at its other locations.
“Rabbits are a real responsibility and they have personalities, just like dogs and cats. As they enter adolescence, they can have behavioral issues and that’s when you see people bringing them to animal shelters,” said Mary Cvetan, of the Pittsburgh House Rabbit Club. “Before parents bring home a rabbit for Easter, they have to consider what they’ll do if their child loses interest in their rabbit once the novelty wears off.”
The House Rabbit Club’s purpose is to educate owners and support shelters through seminars, special events and individual coaching on the care of domestic rabbits.
Cvetan advises people interested in adopting a rabbit attend the “bunny romps” held at the humane society and Animal Rescue League, where rabbits roam a large playroom and have the opportunity to interact with prospective owners, or other bunny events. It’s a great way for people to learn about the needs and care of rabbits after adoption, she said.
A dedicated group of volunteers helps take care of the rabbits at area shelters.
Among them is University of Pittsburgh senior Rachel DeLong, 22, who spends several hours a week at Animal Rescue League’s bunny house feeding and exercising the rabbits.
“I like getting to know the rabbits and their personalities. Before I started volunteering here, I didn’t know much about rabbits. They’re great to be around,” said DeLong. The no-kill shelter keeps the rabbits until they find a permanent home or a foster home.
Kym Secreet, an animal control officer for several municipalities in Washington County, said she finds a lot of domestic bunnies running loose once the weather turns warm.
“It’s definitely an issue,” said Secreet.
She had a pet rabbit named Pinky for eight years when she was growing up, and her bunny was a part of the family.
“He was a wonderful pet and he was litter-trained, but it was more work than you would think and that’s what people have to be aware of,” said Secreet. “These animals don’t need to be put in a cage and left outside. They need human contact and affection and they will respond.”
She recommends that people who adopt rabbits take the animal to a veterinarian for a check-up, and to visit the vet annually for wellness exams.
Zbozny encourages all rabbit owners to get their pets spayed and neutered to prevent breeding and to avoid potential health and behavioral issues.
“We’ve done rescues where we have found 50 to 70 rabbits in the home, and that could be avoided,” said Zbozny.
Like any pet, rabbits have housing, food and behavioral needs. Zbozny said they should not be kept in wire bottom cages, and she recommends they live indoors. Zbozny litter-trains her rabbits, and they’re free to roam parts of her house.
For Zbozny, rabbits’ personalities are one of their most endearing features. But it also can make rabbits more difficult to handle.
“Some like to be picked up, some don’t like that since they’re ground animals,” said Zbozny. “You have to get to know yours.”
Secreet recalls a time when pet stores would paint baby chicks pastel Easter colors and sell them.
“It used to really bother me to see that,” said Secreet. “Just like at Halloween, when we don’t recommend that you give black cats. I love rabbits. I love dogs and cats, they make me happy, but there’s a smile I get on my face when I see a rabbit. I think they make great pets, but you have to get it in your head that they’re no different than a dog and a cat. If you want to take care of this animal for the entirety of its life, then it’s never a bad thing.”
Visit these websites to view rabbits available for adoption or information on house rabbits: Animal Rescue League, www.animalrescue.org; Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, wpahumane.com; Animal Friends, thinkingoutsidethecage.org; Rabbit Wranglers, www.petfinder.com/shelters/PA323.html; and the Pittsburgh House Rabbit Club on Facebook.